The NSW Greens have today released a 3 point reform package to better serve and support victims and survivors of past child sexual abuse in their pursuit of civil and criminal justice. This reform package was designed in consultation with victims, support groups, lawyers and other stakeholders.
1. Remove time limits for victims’ civil damages claims
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found that the average time to report child sexual abuse is over 20 years. Yet the law in NSW requires civil compensation claims to be brought within 3 years after a person turns 18. These timeframes are grossly out of step. The NSW Greens have drafted the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2014 to remove the time limit for civil claims by victims of child sexual abuse. Victoria and many other jurisdictions in the US, Canada and Europe have implemented these reforms. NSW victims deserve no less.
2. Bring sentencing for past child abusers into the 21st century
Modern day NSW courts are forced by precedent to sentence perpetrators of child sexual abuse as if they were the court at the time of the offence – which might be 40 years ago. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, when many offences occurred, society had a flawed view that child sexual abuse was a less serious crime, and historically courts gave much more lenient sentences. Applying these flawed values in sentencing today brings the justice system into disrepute and disrespects victims. The Greens are proposing amendments to NSW sentencing legislation to fix this.
3. Stop churches hiding their money in trusts
Victims of child sexual abuse by clergy or officials of the Catholic and other churches must have a right to seek redress from the organisation that abused them. But many churches’ property is held in property trusts that shield its money from victims’ claims – the ‘Ellis defence’. This artificial legal structure cannot be permitted to continue to deny legitimate claims by victims of abuse. The NSW Greens have drafted The Roman Catholic Church Trust Property Amendment (Justice for Victims) Bill 2014 to allow victims to sue the property trusts on behalf of the Catholic Church, removing the ‘Ellis defence’. The reform should then be extended to other organisations.
NSW Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge MLC said:
“Case after case has come out of the Royal Commission involving the criminal sexual abuse of children dating as far back as the 1950s, and it’s not enough to just wring our hands and say we’ll try harder in the future.
“Those children are now adult survivors of child abuse, and their path to justice is still strewn with obstacles.
“We can and should change the law going forward, but there are barriers facing victims of past child abuse that must be removed to deliver justice now.
“It is unacceptable that NSW law requires victims to make any claims for damages by age 21 when we know that it often takes decades for survivors of child sexual abuse even to tell anyone about it.
“NSW Parliament cannot stand by while organisations that allowed children to be abused hide behind the statute of limitations to defeat legitimate claims by victims of child sexual abuse.
“It is unacceptable that the law is telling judges to sentence child sexual abusers based on the flawed and uninformed community attitudes of the 1960s or 1970s.
“Of course judges must apply the law from the time the offence occurred, but the range of sentences must be informed by what the community now knows about the damaging impact of child abuse, not past unenlightened views.
“Without this sentencing reform judges are bound by common law to continue to deliver unjustly short sentences for historical child abuse.
“The community can’t have faith in a justice system that has to pretend it’s in the dark ages to sentence child abusers from the 1960s or 70s – judges should represent the community of today not 40 years ago.
“Why should the community accept that the Catholic Church cannot be sued and that it doesn’t exist in the eyes of the law – of course it exists, of course it has assets, and if it has caused harm, it should be able to be sued.
“A law that quarantines an organisation’s wealth from legitimate claims by victims is itself an abuse. Parliament has the power to change that, and where an organisation is at fault, it should pay,” Mr Shoebridge said.
For further detail please see our Media Brief.
Support for victims and survivors
Bravehearts 1800 272 831 (8am-8pm, Monday to Friday)
Survivors and Mates Support Network (SAMSN) (02) 8355 3711
Adults Surviving Child Abuse Helpline 1300 657 38 (9am-5pm Monday to Sunday)
Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 (24 hours)