Removing sexual abuse reporting limits

Parliament House

Ebony Garlett, Reporter

A Bill created to end limitation periods by civil action for child victims of sexual abuse was debated in the Western Australian Parliament this week.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, found the average time for a victim to disclose their child sexual abuse was 22 years after the event occurred.

Under the existing limitation periods of six years, some victims are unable to sue for damages when they finally disclose their abuse because the limitation period has expired.

Teresa Huizar is the executive director of the Washington-based National Children’s Alliance. She spoke to Reveal, the online center for investigative reporting, about her mentoring experiences.

Her career has involved listening to stories about sexual abuse and advocating for children’s rights. But not all the victims she hears from are minors.

She spoke to an elderly woman who told her she was sexually abused as a child. The woman had not disclosed this information to anyone before. What prompted her to make her long-kept secret known? She discovered her grandchild was being abused.

Huizar said at Children’s Advocacy Centers, when a child is being interviewed about his or her sexual abuse, the accompanying parent or grandparent sometimes recounts his or her own abuse too.

Premier Mark McGowan said, “We are committed to ensuring survivors of child sex abuse are treated with dignity and respect.

“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 Bill was heard in the WA Legislative Council and it seeks to remove the current limitation periods for all child sexual abuse actions, both retrospectively and going forward.

The severity of this Bill was made clear last Wednesday when the members spoke for four hours on the 1st clause which outlines the definition of ‘unlawful sexual abuse’. Members debated slight differences in the definition of child sexual abuse in the Limitation Act 2005 and the Civil Liberty Act 2002, and Liberal member Nick Goiran asked why identical wording was not being used.

Labor’s Sue Ellery, who speaks on behalf of the Government, said it was the wish of the government to have both definitions in place and that it will be up to the courts to make final decisions about individual cases.

The debate got colourful as Goiran asked “If caning the buttocks is a form of sexual abuse?”

He said that the problem with the Bill is that it separates physical and sexual abuse, whereas they often happen at the same time and it would be better to deal with them together.

He said: “In my experience these cases more often than not have both types of abuse present.”

To which Ellery replied that it all has to do with circumstance and “how it was administered, in a sexual or non-sexual manner.”

The debate took new shape when Liberal Michael Mischin said that under the new Bill that written apologies will now be taken into court as evidence and those people can be deemed liable, under section 1B.

He also asked about sex offenders seeking damages if they were sexually abused as children. He asked if these people would get awarded money, but also be able to be sued by their own victims.

He said: “Hasn’t it been proved through research that those who have been abused as a child have a high likelihood of growing up to sexually abuse others?”

Ellery pointed him to section 6A (b) which outlines previous claims and how they will be dealt with saying, “This Bill treats all victims the same”

But she did say the government had not thought of that and it will be brought up in the following debate.

The next sitting is in April and if the Bill passes it will gain Royal Assent, as it has already passed in the lower house.