Many areas of the world apply what are called statutes of limitation to most criminal cases, meaning time limits for when prosecutors can file criminal charges. So, if someone stole your wallet twenty years ago, you probably can’t have them arrested today, as that statue of limitation has no doubt passed. (Read more about criminal statutes of limitation in the U.S. at this site.) Statutes of limitation are also typically applied to liability cases; if you had an accident on the job, for example, you may have a limited time frame in which you can sue your employer for negligence.
Courts have typically applied these same statutes of limitation to child sex abuse (CSA) victims, also limiting the time for which they can take their abuser to court and sue for redress (monetary compensation). While these statutes of limitation typically begin from the victim’s eighteenth birthday, and not from the time of the abuse itself, they have often been limited to just a few years. This means that a CSA victim may only have until their twenty-first birthday (which will vary, depending on local statutes of course) to file criminal charges, or to file a liability suit.
While statutes of limitation may be good to apply for certain cases, one difficulty faced by CSA victims is that it often takes years, if not even decades, for them to come to terms with what has happened to them, and to then become strong enough to report their abuse to authorities. A person doesn’t turn eighteen and then *poof*, they’re automatically mentally and emotionally ready to talk about their past abuse, and will know how to find a lawyer, talk to police, and otherwise navigate the complicated justice system.
This can be especially true for children who have been victimized by someone in a high-control, abusive religion or cult like Jehovah’s Witnesses; the overwhelming feelings of shame, confusion, and so on that victims already have are just compounded by a fear of going against the elders, as these men are portrayed as having their authority from god himself.¹ Being disfellowshipped [excommunicated] from the religion, a threat that has been used against victims who wish to make such claims, means being shunned and cut off from everyone you know, and potentially facing a fiery death at Armageddon. This also makes it especially difficult for adult survivors to find the bravery to file claims.
Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are also taught, as are many children in such religions and cults, to be absolutely obedient to parents, and respectful of fathers in particular. Their salvation may even be tied into that unquestioning obedience and acceptance of the father’s authority.²
All of these factors can make it incredibly difficult for children coming out of these religions to defy their parents, the elders, and the religion itself, and report their abuse, and especially while they’re still relatively young.
Because of this unique situation faced by CSA victims, local governments in Australia have taken steps to abolish these statutes of limitation for such liability cases:
The state of Victoria abolished the time limit for injuries suffered from child abuse, including sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, in July of 2015. The court would determine if any injury suffered by a child would fall under the general understanding of abuse, and, as reported at this site, “…the abolition of limitation periods within which claims may be made does not limit a court’s power to summarily dismiss or permanently stay proceedings where the lapse of time has a burdensome effect on the defendant that is so serious that a fair trial is not possible. An example would be where crucial evidence has deteriorated or been lost over time.”
New South Wales (NSW)
In March of 2016, NSW abolished time limits for civil claims filed for child sexual abuse. The State Attorney General, Gabrielle Upton, was quoted as saying, “There should be no use-by date for justice for survivors of child abuse.”
Western Australia introduced the Limitation Amendment (Child Sexual Abuse Actions) Bill in 2015, which would eliminate the statute of limitation for claims arising from child sex abuse. In November of 2016, it was reported that the bill had been met favorably by Parliament and was likely to pass soon (see this site).
In March of 2017, it was reported that Queensland had abolished the time limits for child sex abuse victims to file claims (see this site).
It’s been said that many of these changes are the result of the findings and recommendations of the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
These legal changes remove one major stumbling block for adult survivors who wish to file liability claims against, not just their abuser, but also the institution that facilitated their abuse, including churches, as these institutions can no longer use a statute of limitation itself as a means of defense. It also means more adult survivors may get the compensation and closure that they need and deserve, even if it takes them decades to find the strength to come forward.
To read more about these changes and to view supportive documentation, please visit the blog of Shine Lawyers at this site.
¹”Our heavenly Shepherds, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, expect us to be obedient and submissive to the undershepherds whom they have placed in positions of responsibility within the congregation. (1 Peter 5:5) Under inspiration, the apostle Paul wrote: ‘Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith. Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.'” – April 1, 2007, Watchtower
²”Obedience to your parents protects your ‘life now,’ but obedience will also make it possible for you to enjoy the life ‘which is to come,’ called ‘the real life.'” – February 15, 2007, Watchtower
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