Average Abuse Report Time – 20 Years
The average time to report abuse is 20 years, so how much time do you actually have to lodge a claim?
For over 300 years there has been a time limit imposed on anyone who wanted to take action in a court to enforce their legal rights. There are sound reasons to have time limits. People need to have certainty in how they conduct their lives and business. Something which has happened, and which may leave someone with a claim to legal action to correct a wrong or seek compensation, should not hang over someone’s head forever.
In recent times the law has only allowed 3 years in which to bring a claim for compensation for injuries, including injuries arising from abuse.
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Time Limits Removed
One of the most important recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse was that time limits be removed in relation to bringing claims for these abuses. Good reasons were put forward as to why time limits needed to be removed for abuse claims. An important consideration is that many victims of abuse will not report that abuse for many years, with an average time for reporting being 20 years.
Starting in 2015 in Victoria, all States and Territories have implemented the Royal Commission recommendation that time limits be abolished. This law not only applied to claims now, but no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
But, can a long time ago just be too long ago? Well, it might be. The Courts still have the power to stop a claim in its tracks if it is not possible for the institution accused of the abuse to have any way of being meaningfully involved. The Courts have recently made decisions about two such cases.
The first case involved abuse by a Catholic priest in 1947 of a 12 year old girl. She lived with the trauma that caused, and eventually lodged a complaint 70 years later in 2017. The priest had died in 1957. The only person with any knowledge of that priest was another priest who did not become a priest until 1951, but worked with the abuser in a parish. He was 90 when asked what he knew. He gave differing accounts of his knowledge to the victim and a Church representative. He died soon after. The Court decided that the Catholic Church had no way of gathering any information about the claim, and could not respond in even the most simple of ways to the claim.
The second case involved abuse by a teacher at a wealthy private school in Sydney. The abuse took place in 1974, at the teacher’s home and a school camp. The victim complained to Police in 1997, and the school was contacted. The school did not make its own enquiries, and left the matter to the Police. The school heard nothing further until 2004 when the victim raised the matter through a solicitor. The school’s legal advice was that the claim was long past the 3 year time limit. The victim took the matter no further, until he got a new solicitor in 2014. The new solicitor fought hard, and the school spent a lot of time and effort investigating what had happened. Many teachers from the period were interviewed. They had differing memories of the abuser, but none recalled any accusations against him. Few of them remembered the school camp, or, if they did, were unsure if was an official school camp. The Headmaster, Deputy Headmaster and other senior people from that time had died. The school records did not reveal any complaints of abuse by the teacher.
The Court decided that the school could not form any view about what may have happened. The case was not allowed to continue.
These cases are the exception. Most often the abuse occurred when others were aware of it happening. Often no one did anything about it. Abusers often carried on abusing for years. Many abusers were protected by the institutions, and allowed to resign or transfer to other institutions.
It was when the abuse occurred that the institution had an obligation to investigate, and to inform the Police or other authorities. An institution cannot claim it now knows nothing, when its own failure to act has led to the lack of knowledge.
Most abuse claims are successful because the institution can be shown to have failed to take action at the time the abuse took place.
At Koffels we understand abuse claims, and we know that many claims will succeed no matter what the time frame is because the institution knew what was happening at the time and did nothing.