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Forum looks at how to best work with victims of child sex abuse


29 May 2013

(L-R) Associate Professor Judith Cashmore and Dr Rita Shackel have added to the opposition of proposed NSW laws regarding child sex abuse claims.
(L-R) Associate Professor Judith Cashmore and Dr Rita Shackel have added to the opposition of proposed NSW laws regarding child sex abuse claims.

Two Sydney Law School academics have added their voice to a growing tide of opposition to proposed NSW laws limiting the period in which victims of sexual abuse can make a complaint and claim compensation.

In the lead up to a major forum on responding to historical child sex abuse, event organisers Associate Professor Judith Cashmore and Dr Rita Shackel have said the Victims Rights and Support Bill being debated in the State Parliament this week contradicts extensive research into child sex abuse.

This Friday's Responding to Historical Child Sexual Abuse: a multi-disciplinary forum at the Law School brings together people deeply involved in dealing with victims and cases of child sex abuse. Representatives from advocacy groups, survivors' groups, law firms, other legal practices and government agencies are addressing and attending the event.

The forum will discuss how the needs of victims of child sex abuse can best be met - both within and outside of the criminal justice system - with minimal trauma. The work of the three commissions into the handling of sexual abuse claims currently underway in Australia, and alternative mechanisms, will be examined.

The Victims' Rights and Support Bill being debated this week will also be a hot topic of discussion. The bill requires child victims to make a complaint within 10 years of their 18th birthday. It also reduces maximum compensation payouts to victims to $15,000, down from the current $50,000.

Associate Professor Cashmore and Dr Shackel say the bill is seemingly more concerned with containing costs than providing justice. Introducing a 10-year statute of limitation will further inhibit victims from coming forward.

"Research indicates delayed reporting is common among children who have been sexually abused, with some taking years to report," says Associate Professor Cashmore. "There is considerable evidence males are more likely to delay disclosure of abuse than females, and for males abused as adolescents by clergy, the average time taken to report abuse is about 25 years.

"This bill stops abused children from making a claim once they turn 28 and we know many people won't make a complaint within that timeframe. Limiting the way we allow people to deal with their abuse and not acknowledging that nondisclosure is a by-product of the trauma and impact of abuse reinforces the blame on the part of victims, denies access to justice, potentially leaves other children unprotected and is almost tantamount to societal denial."

Dr Shackel says it is also unfortunate the bill is being debated at a time when many victims are considering their options in the wake of increased media coverage of past abuse, suggesting the NSW government may be more concerned about the cost of dealing with an increased number of claims than providing victims access to justice.

The fully-booked Responding to Historical Child Sexual Abuse will give participants an excellent opportunity to share their experiences of trying to help those who suffered sexual abuse as children and learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions. Journalists are welcome to attend and a full list of speakers is available online.


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