MOST child sexual assault victims who come forward about historical offences amid two abuse inquiries could miss out on compensation from the state government, under new time limits on claims.
In the same week public hearings began for its Special Commission of Inquiry into clergy abuse in the Hunter, the government unveiled changes to its victims support scheme that would require child abuse victims to lodge claims for ‘‘recognition payments’’ within a decade after the day they turn 18.
Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, who weren’t children at the time, would also have to lodge claims within a decade, under legislation introduced to Parliament.
Currently, sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence victims are usually exempt from a two-year limit on claims for lump sum payments through the state compensation scheme for crimes that occurred in NSW.
The state opposition said the ‘‘disgraceful’’ changes would exclude the majority of victims of historical offences – the type in the spotlight of the state inquiry and national Royal Commission into child sexual abuse within institutions.
‘‘This is a low move by the O’Farrell government to avoid paying compensation to child sexual abuse victims who come forward as part of the special inquiry and royal commission,’’ Labor leader John Robertson said.
Hunter child sex victims advocate Peter Gogarty said the changes were not fair because it could be ‘‘decades’’ before a victim was ready to talk.
But the government said an overhaul of the existing scheme was necessary because it would be unsustainable and claims were taking too long to process, leaving victims without immediate support.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Smith said the 10-year limits would not apply to existing unresolved claims and there would be no limit on applying for counselling.
Mr Smith told Parliament other aspects of the reforms would give victims of crime access to immediate help, including relocation costs, urgent medical costs and help with funeral costs.
NSW Victims of Crime Assistance League executive director Robyn Cotterell-Jones said some child abuse victims did not always realise they were victims of crimes until much later and only then began to deal with the impacts of the abuse.
‘‘It takes some victims a very long time to speak about matters that affected them, and therefore there may be a lot of people unhappy about that particular change,’’ she said.
But it was also important the government ensure the scheme was sustainable and it was particularly difficult to gather evidence for claims about historical offences, she said.
Hunter child sex victims advocate Peter Gogarty said the changes to the victim support scheme were a ‘‘backward step’’ at a time victims of sexual assault were being asked to open up.
‘‘I think the huge concern I’ve got with this is that it takes victims of child sexual assault a long time to come forward,’’ he said.
‘‘It can take decades before they ever talk about being abused as a child.
‘‘There is so much of a focus at the moment on trying to give people, who were victims of crime as children, the message that someone wants to listen to their stories, that finally they are believed. ‘‘The fact that at 28 years old they are precluded from ever getting any sort of compensation from being a victim of crime is a backwards step.
‘‘Over the last few years I have met a lot of people who were victims of crime when they were a child and I think almost exclusively they would have been precluded if this change was in place.
‘‘I don’t think I met anyone who was under 28.’’
Hetty Johnston, executive director of Bravehearts, said it was not in the best interests of victims of abuse to limit their opportunity to claim compensation.
‘‘There are really strong and powerful reasons why people won’t disclose within that 10-year period,’’ she said, ‘‘Disclosing is a traumatic event in itself.
‘‘There should be no statute of limitations at all on victims of crime. It is immoral and all that does is benefit the institutions who sat by and did nothing.’’
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the average delay in reporting sexual abuse claims was 23 years according to a report into claims against the Anglican Church.
He said the proposed law would act retrospectively, so people who lodged claims would see their payments reduced by up to two thirds.
Howard Brown, a member of the NSW Victims Advisory Board which recommended the changes, said the old bill ‘‘has been a farce – it is $300 million in debt’’.
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