By Mobeena Hills.
A recent report handed down by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions has found that almost 40% of children in care have been abused. Almost a quarter of a million of our most vulnerable have been abused since the 1950s, a disproportionate number of whom are Maori or Pasifika, or suffer from a disability. The report found that the cost to society is almost a million dollars for each person abused in care, yet earlier reports have shown that the average payout to survivors is $35,000.
This is a stark contrast to my experience in advocating for survivors when I practiced in New South Wales. One of my clients was awarded $1.5million in compensation for historical abuse, one of the highest in Australian history for a case of its kind. Access to justice in the civil jurisdiction in New Zealand is flawed and is leaving survivors of abuse behind. I choose, as a litigator, to work at a firm that is dedicated to fighting for the rights of those seeking justice whilst navigating the current impediments in our legal system.
There is a case going through the courts about a survivor who courageously brought a civil claim against the perpetrator, but due to our draconian laws involving unrealistic time periods in bringing claims, instead of being awarded compensation, was ordered to pay costs to her abuser.
Many of my abuse clients are incapable of working due to the lifelong detrimental effects the abuse has had on their mental health. Whilst ACC does not prohibit survivors to bring claims that relate to mental trauma, our Limitation Acts are a significant barrier in bringing historic claims, as recent case law has shown. This is something that we as a nation have to address.
Hopefully this is what the Inquiry will recommend, and in turn lead to legislative change.
In Australia, Shine Lawyers has successfully advocated for legislative change on this issue. Australia abolished limitation laws applying to historic child sexual abuse following its Royal Commission Enquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This has allowed survivors to successfully bring claims for compensation for historic abuse. The Australian Royal Commission has found that the average time for a survivor to disclose child sexual abuse is at least 22 years. This is largely due to survivors of sexual abuse repressing their memories of the abuse, which medical professionals working in the area of mental health may understand. In New Zealand, generally speaking the time period to bring a civil action is six years. The limitation period applying to the survivors of some of the worst crimes imaginable is nonsensical and unjust.
To date, 550 survivors have shared their story with the Royal Commission. Historic abuse isn’t just confined to state care and faith-based institutions however. More than 80 claimants have recently reported their historic abuse relating to the Dilworth School.
They are now left asking the question “what now?”. With the Inquiry’s recommendations due to be issued by 2023, if the government is serious about reforming a justice system that is clearly unjust, abolishing the limitation period for survivors of sexual abuse would be the perfect place to start.
Shine Lawyers – we’re here to help
Shine Lawyers has a team of carefully selected experts helping survivors to access the justice, acknowledgement and compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one has suffered abuse, our team may be able to help. Contact Mobeena Hills, Senior Associate, at [email protected] or 03 662 9206 to schedule a confidential and no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.