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A gang-rape victim has been denied more than half her victim-of-crime compensation because the law was changed retrospectively during the six years it took to process her claim.
Katrina Keshishian, who was raped by three men at Windsor in Sydney’s outer-west in 2008, has told her harrowing story to 7.30 in the hope that the New South Wales Government might reassess her case.
Ms Keshishian, then 20, was out with her family at her local Leagues Club at St Mary’s when she decided to stay on and have a drink and a flutter on the pokies after her parents left. She was approached by a young man.
“He seemed like a really nice guy, we started talking, we had a lot in common at the time, so I had no reason to be in fear of the man,” she said.
“I was having a good time.”
The man suggested that they go out to a nightclub to go dancing and she agreed. He brought two friends along for the ride.
Ms Keshishian said she started to feel nervous as the car drove 20 kilometres to Windsor down dark roads, but she suppressed her gut instinct.
Instead of the nightclub, the men took her to the riverbank at Windsor. It was dark and deserted, but they said they just wanted to hang out and have a few beers before going dancing.
One thing led to another and Katrina went off with the first man she had met at the Leagues Club. They had consensual sex.
“And after we finished, I opened my eyes and his friends were standing behind him and he turned around to his friends and said, ‘Sharing’s caring, get down here’,” she said.
“That’s when the other two took turns at raping me,” a sobbing Ms Keshishian told 7.30.
“They just had sex with me. It was horrible.”
The men then took Ms Keshishian back to St Mary’s, where they dumped her at a petrol station.
She went inside, crying and covered with mud and told the attendant about the rape. They called the police immediately, who took her to hospital for a rape examination.
Government slashed compensation available to crime victims
Two of the men, who had prior criminal convictions, were charged with rape and were held on remand.
But fearing the humiliation of cross-examination in court, Ms Keshishian eventually pulled out.
Even though the men were not convicted, Ms Keshishian applied, as was her right, for victim’s compensation.
“My rape was classified as a category three sexual assault because there were two or more offenders … so I was meant to receive a sum anywhere between $25,000 to $50,000,” she said.
To me, it says to me is that the Government doesn’t care about victims. All it cares about is money, saving some money.Katrina Keshishian
After waiting six years, finally, in June this year, Ms Keshishian’s claim was approved – the assessors found that she was raped.
While it processed her claim, the NSW Government retrospectively changed compensation awards for victims.
But there was a catch. Her payout had been slashed from up to $50,000 to $15,000.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” Ms Kershishian said.
“Not to me and not to the hundreds or thousands of other people that are going through the same thing that I’m going through.”
Now she has started a Change.org petition which has attracted thousands of signatures.
“To me, it says to me is that the Government doesn’t care about victims,” she said.
“All it cares about is money, saving some money.”
Twenty-four thousand victims of crime had their compensation retrospectively cut last year when the law was enacted.
Many were female survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and child abuse victims.
Attorney-General defends move to save budget expense
Despite being asked repeatedly, Attorney-General Brad Hazzard would not be drawn on the morality of changing the law retrospectively – a decision made by his predecessor.
At the end of the day we also have to make sure that we’re providing a scheme, a system, that’s sustainable, financially, for the State.Attorney-General Brad Hazzard
But he insisted the Government needed to save money.
“Each of us who are in that difficult position of having to look at whether or not a particular compensation scheme is appropriate or not, agonise for people like Katrina and people in the same situation – it’s awful,” Mr Hazzard told 7.30.
“And it’s almost unbelievable that there can be animals out there that can do these sorts of things to people.
“But at the end of the day we also have to make sure that we’re providing a scheme, a system, that’s sustainable, financially, for the State.”
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge fought the Government’s compensation cuts.
“I think that (the Government) just took a political view of it,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“They realised that victims of crime, they’re damaged, they’re often isolated, they’re very disparate, they’re scattered around the state.
“They find it very hard to politically organise and, in the eyes of the Government, here was an easy way of taking $40 million and getting budget savings and they won’t be able to collectively organise to make much of a fuss.”
Compensation changes present double standard: advocate
NSW Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Karen Willis said there was a double standard when it came to victims of sexual assault.
“If someone has a terrible car accident and permanent injury, we would say, of course, they should be compensated for that,” Ms Willis said.
“When someone experiences sexual assault the psychological impact is trauma.
“Just because you can’t see the injury, just because it’s a psychological injury does not mean it’s not incredibly painful and that we shouldn’t be looking at compensation to assist that person to recover.”
Ms Keshishian said no amount of money will undo the rape, but it would help ease the financial strain of years out of the full-time workforce and counselling bills.
She is slowly getting her life back together, but will never forget that night by the river.
“This rape, this gang-rape ruined my life – they took away something from me something that was mine to give, not theirs,” Ms Keshishian told 7.30.
“I see their faces every day. Every night I go to sleep I have nightmares, every night. It’s not like I can just forget.
“It’s horrible being a victim of a rape, let alone a gang-rape where there’s multiple offenders and I can hear them laughing, in my dreams, every night, laughing at me.”