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Govt urged to remove ticking clock on child abuse justice

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The Law Society of South Australia is urging the State Government to remove the three-year statute of limitations on civil claims brought by survivors of child abuse against perpetrators.

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Currently, a person claiming compensation for damages related to child abuse in South Australia must do so within three years of their 18th birthday – or go through a lengthy process to secure an exemption from the time limit.

Law Society President David Caruso has written to Attorney-General John Rau, arguing that the time limit is a cruel impediment to justice for people who may suffer the consequences of abuse throughout their lifetime.

“Child abuse can resonate and manifest itself in hardship for the victim’s entire life,” Caruso’s letter, sent last week, reads.

“Some persons, thankfully, recover but many are adversely affected, as are their relationships and the people around them.

“Imposing a time limit on recognition of their abuse is a cruel demarcation of their rights when the effects of the abuse they have suffered [are] not so limitable by time.”

Liberal Party Deputy Leader Vickie Chapman will introduce a private member’s bill into parliament to extend the three-year time limit this week.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended that state and territory governments remove limitation periods for civil litigation by survivors of child abuse against their abusers in a report published last year.

The New South Wales parliament passed legislation to remove the time limit in February this year. The Queensland Government introduced legislation to follow suit last month.

However, Rau told InDaily the ex-gratia payments scheme for victims of child abuse in South Australia operated as an alternative to legal action, and was a superior approach to that taken in New South Wales, which he described as “legalistic”.

Law Society representative and principal of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers Tony Kerin told InDaily survivors of child abuse should not have to endure the expense and complication of securing an exemption on the statute of limitations before pursuing a case.

“It’s hard enough proving an injury [that occurred] 20 or 30 years ago,” said Kerin.

“In these horrific cases … there shouldn’t be this extra hurtle you need to jump.

“We think it’s time that these particular injury event is given special treatment.”

Senior lecturer in the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology Rachel Roberts told InDaily it often takes survivors of child abuse many years to be ready to speak to anyone about their experiences, let alone take legal action.

“People are coping with the impact that it’s had in their life … often silently, and not sharing it with other people,” Roberts said.

“Some people hope that as they head into their adult years that these things will fade away [but] realise that some of that impact just doesn’t go away.

“What can happen for some people is that the strong memories and the implications for them don’t come up until they parents themselves [and] sometimes it’s moving into a sexual relationships as an adult [that triggers memories of past abuse].”

The Royal Commission’s report argued that limitation periods are a significant, sometimes insurmountable, barrier to survivors pursuing civil litigation”.

“We are satisfied that current limitation periods are inappropriate given the length of time that many survivors of child sexual abuse take to disclose their abuse.

“We consider that state and territory governments should implement our recommendations to remove limitation periods as soon as possible.”

 

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