Victims of church sexual abuse have suffered a setback, with reports that the NSW Victims Rights and Support Bill proposes a statute of limitations for people claiming compensation for violence including child abuse or sexual assault. Under the legislation, applications must be made within ten years of the act or, if the victim was a child when it occurred, within ten years after they turn 18.
The Catholic Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council issued a media release on Thursday urging the NSW Government to reconsider the change because of the special circumstances of sexual abuse victims.
The Council's CEO Francis Sullivan said that for many reasons, victims of childhood sexual abuse often do not report the crimes for many years, and that to place any time limit on disclosure 'seems like an inappropriate way to encourage victims to come forward'.
To come to terms with such a traumatic experience as sexual abuse — and to resolve to act — is a delicate process that is likely to be undermined if there is a clock ticking.
The victim may lack the psychological strength to meet the deadline for reporting the crime, and end up feeling worse as a result. Sometimes a church culture intimidates victims into remaining silent, and this has often led to adult victims waiting until their parents have died before reporting the crime.
Pat Walsh, who worked with East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), wrotein Eureka Street last year that the CAVR was faced with similar challenges but opted to take a victim-friendly approach that 'informed every aspect of the CAVR's design, structure, operation and reporting'.
'Its enabling legislation required the Commission "to assist in restoring the dignity of victims" and it employed a number of strategies to achieve this. ... The centrepiece of this victim-friendly approach was listening to victims.'
Listening to victims involves waiting until they are able to speak. If they are forced to speak before they are ready, they may undermine the justice system by speaking half-truths or declining the opportunity to report the crime. It's often said justice delayed is justice denied. It can also be true that justice hastened is justice denied.