Some justice for child sexual abuse victims

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The Civil Liability Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 will introduce a cap on the legal fees charged to a plaintiff in child sexual abuse cases.

MOVES to scrap time limits in child sex abuse cases, which have prevented thousands of victims from accessing justice through the state’s civil court system, have been commended by a law firm.

Shine Lawyers national abuse law manager Lisa Flynn said the State Government’s introduction of a Bill to amend the Civil Liability Act and the Limitation Act with the introduction of the Civil Liability Legislation Amendment (Child Sexual Abuse Actions) Bill 2017 was a momentous step towards justice for thousands of abuse victims.

Ms Flynn said the legislation would make it easier for survivors of child sexual abuse to take civil action in relation to the abuse they had suffered.

“Until (last week), victims of child sex abuse had just three years from the time they turned 18 to start civil action,’’ she said.

“If they failed to make a claim within this time frame, their access to civil justice and compensation was denied.

“These laws have no place in a just society and have previously led to very unfair and inequitable outcomes for survivors of abuse in this state.

“This is due to the fact that many survivors of child sexual abuse will repress their painful memories or not recognise the link between their profound emotional injuries and their abuse until many years after they have reached the age of majority.’’

Kirsty Pratt of Butler is a survivor of sexual abuse.

She was sexually assaulted by her primary school teacher at the age of nine.

“The absolute most damaging effect of my abuse and the subsequent poor handling of my case by the Education Department, is that I have not even come close to reaching my potential; career-wise or as a human being and contributing member of society,’’ she said.

“Lifting the limitation laws gives myself and survivors of abuse like me, a chance to undo the damage that has marred my childhood and limited me into adulthood.

“Changing these laws means a chance to become the person I should have, with validation from the government and vindication from my abusers.’’

Premier Mark McGowan said the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that the average time for a victim to disclose child sexual abuse was 22 years.

Mr McGowan said his government was committed to ensuring survivors of child sex abuse were treated with dignity and respect.

“The sexual abuse of children is one of the worst crimes imaginable,’’ he said.

“The fact that these crimes may have happened many years ago should not be a barrier to being able to seek justice and compensation in our civil courts.

“The State Government has worked tirelessly on this important Bill since we were elected in March to ensure we get it right.

“I thank all sexual abuse victims for their patience and understanding as we worked hard to produce a Bill which will enable them to seek justice and obtain adequate compensation.”

Attorney General John Quigley said in a first for Australia, the Bill provided a legal basis for suing institutions in the name of their current office holders for historical child sexual abuse.

“There are currently legal difficulties in suing an unincorporated institution,’’ he said.

“Many of the churches and other institutions involved are, or were at the time, not incorporated.

“Our Bill includes provisions to overcome the difficulties that a victim may face in identifying a proper defendant.

“It includes provisions overriding certain sections of the federal corporations law, which will enable office holders to access the assets of related trusts and corporations for the purposes of satisfying the judgement amount.

“The Bill also ensures that victims are treated fairly by introducing a cap on the legal fees that may be charged to a plaintiff in child sexual abuse cases.”