Territory Stories

Debates Day 4 - Tuesday 9 May 2017



Debates Day 4 - Tuesday 9 May 2017

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Parliamentary Record 5


Debates for 13th Assembly 2016 - 2018; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 13th Assembly 2016 - 2020




pp 1623 to 1686


Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES Tuesday 9 May 2017 1629 Commissions recommendations in relation to the duty of institutions and identifying a proper defendant are implemented. This bill addresses each of these recommendations and broadens the scope by removing the limitation period on other forms of child abuse, not only sexual abuse. This, quite rightly, includes physical abuse and psychological abuse arising out of sexual or physical abuse. In normal circumstances where people may claim damages against a person or institution, it should be noted that limitation periods do serve a purpose and are justifiable in a number of ways. When claims are delayed, evidence may be destroyed or become inaccessible, and witnesses memories become less reliable, increasing the risk of miscarriage of justice for both parties. Limitations on historical claims encourage claimants to start proceedings as soon as reasonably possible and prevent undue oppression to the defendant. That is why it is important that this bill preserves the courts power to stay proceedings addressed in section 5(5), which states the removal of limitation: does not limit a courts 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. It is important that the courts powers to prevent an unfair trial not be limited, and this bill does not limit the courts powers in that regard. The Royal Commission found that while most sexual offences against children were reported within months of the event, in NSW nearly one in four sexual assaults were reported more than five years after the event, and that on average it took survivors of child sexual abuse 22 years to disclose the abuse, which clearly falls well outside the current three-year limitation period in the Northern Territory. There may be a delay in litigation related to child abuse, or reporting the abuse at all, for a number of reasons. Findings of the Royal Commission were that it is common for victims to wrongly blame themselves or feel embarrassed or ashamed, making it difficult to tell anyone. Even when a victim does report the abuse, it cannot be assumed that commencing civil litigation will be the first priority. The finding was that generally a victim does not disclose until they feel safe to do so and have achieved the right mental state. This frequently does not occur until some time has passed. As a Royal Commission report stated: Some report the abuse as adults, and for some, this does not occur until many years after the abuse Delayed reporting is particularly common in cases of institutional child sexual abuse where, for example, the abuser is a trusted church member or a staff member in a boarding school or residential care facility. It is simply not fair that a person should be denied compensation for the trauma they experienced as a child when they may still be suffering the effects of that trauma, which can be severe and lifelong. They will still be required to properly plead and prove their case in order to recover, but they should be given the opportunity to do so. In 2013 the Australian Institute of Family Studies conducted a comprehensive study on the long-term effects of trauma from child sexual abuse, which indicated a number of significant links between a history of child sexual abuse and a range of adverse outcomes both in childhood and well into adulthood. Findings showed a link between child sexual abuse and a wide spectrum of adverse social, sexual, interpersonal and physical health outcomes. Some of the health consequences which can affect victims throughout their lifetime include, but are not limited to, post-traumatic symptoms, depression, substance abuse, helplessness, negative attributions, engagement in risky behaviours, aggressive behaviours and conduct problems, eating disorders, and anxiety. In a 2011 study child sexual abuse was even linked to psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, delusional and personality disorders. The findings of other research suggest victims of child sexual abuse are generally at an increased risk of re-victimisation. The strongest links were with depression, alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders for female survivors, and anxiety-related disorders for male survivors. These disorders are difficult to overcome and