by up to 3yrs in jail
THE NSW Government has introduced new laws into Parliament that will remove controversial barriers that stopped child sexual abuse survivors from taking legal action against institutions.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman introduced the new civil litigation laws in Parliament on Wednesday during a speech acknowledging the “sheer staggering scale” of child sexual abuse in institutions across Australia that was revealed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The commission exposed “the abject failure of numerous institutions right across the country to protect those whose lives, whose protection, was entrusted to them”. “I doubt there is a member in this chamber who wasn’t shocked and distressed by the revelations,” Mr Speakman said.
3rd major response
The civil litigation reforms, announced by Mr Speakman in June, are the third major element in the NSW Government’s response to the royal commission, following the government’s acceptance of the majority of criminal justice reform recommendations and its sign-up to the national redress scheme.
The civil litigation changes include removing the so-called “Ellis defence” that enabled some institutions to avoid liability for child sexual abuse. The defence was named after abuse survivor and lawyer John Ellis who attempted to sue Sydney Catholic Archdiocese for abuse in the 1970s but lost his case after the archdiocese successfully argued no recent church entities were liable.
Under the new laws courts will have the power to appoint trustees to be sued if institutions fail to nominate a proper defendant.
In June, Mr Ellis said it was “a good day”, when the Attorney-General announced the reforms. “I wasn’t sure we’d ever see this day,” he said.
The new laws will also extend the vicarious liability of institutions for employees to include non-employees like volunteers or religious officers. They will impose a duty on institutions to prevent child abuse and if legal action is taken organisations will be held liable unless they can prove they took reasonable precautions to prevent abuse.
“Overhauling the civil litigation system is an historic milestone for survivors, making it easier for them to pursue compensation for child abuse. Nothing can erase the devastation survivors have suffered, but these changes will help ensure institutions are more effectively held to account,” Mr Speakman said.
“This legislation is the latest example of the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government leading the way in supporting survivors of institutional child sex abuse. NSW was the first state to pass laws to enable the establishment of the National Redress Scheme and to introduce a comprehensive criminal justice response to the Royal Commission.”
On August 31 new criminal laws came into effect, including a new failure to report child abuse to police offence, a new failure to protect children obligation on organisations, and changes to sentencing so that current sentencing standards will apply to historical offending.
After Rajinikanth and Vijay, Sivakarthikeyan has the largest fan base among children. His dance moves, pleasing charm and comedy scenes are loved by the little ones and hence he has gone on to become a hero for the entire family. Siva has now come forward to do an awareness film on child sexual abuse titled Modhi Vilayadu Papa. It has been initiated by a couple of Chennai-based NGOs who felt that Siva's immense popularity among the kids made him the ideal choice for such an initiative.
This 5 minute film has been directed by Thiru and leading technicians like composer Sam CS, editor Ruben and cinematographer Richard Nathan have worked on this film. All of them have done it without charging any fee, with an eye on a greater cause. It’s great to see all these busy people from film fraternity coming forward to support a cause such as this.
Siva felt that since he himself is a father to a 4 year old girl, he had a greater responsibility towards the society, and instantly agreed to do this awareness film. It will soon be released on social media platforms and may also be screened in theaters.
Along with Siva, 40 other students have also acted in the film which was shot in a school in Chennai. We are looking forward to this one.
By Marivic Cabural Summers
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved a legislation allowing victims of child sexual abuse from decades ago to file lawsuits against their abusers.
On Tuesday, lawmakers in the state’s lower house passed SB 261 with 173-21 votes. The legislation removes all criminal statutes of limitations on future child sexual abuses. It also creates a two-year window for past victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators.
These amendments to the Pennsylvania law were part of the recommendations of the grand jury, which investigated the widespread child sexual abuse by predator priests in six Catholic dioceses in the state.
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai predicted the swift passage of SB 261, which he called a “compromise.”
Governor Tom Wolf demanded amendments to the state law to give justice to victims of child sexual abuse. Currently, state law only allows those who were victims of sexual abuse as children to file criminal charges until age 50, and to pursue civil lawsuits until age 30.
Additionally, Wolf said, “If we cannot defend victims of these horrific acts, we may very well lose the trust of those we represent, of those most in need of defense, of protection, of support.”
Furthermore, the governor encouraged the Pennsylvania Senate to pass the legislation. On Monday, only a few state senators joined a rally in support of the legislation at the Capitol Rotunda.
Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnatti has been concerned about the two-year window, which he believes violates the state Constitution. Republicans plan to discuss the legislation in closed-door caucus, according to their spokesperson.
Last year, the state Senate approved a legislative proposal allowing child sexual abuse victims until age 50 to file lawsuits and eliminating the statutes of limitations. However, that legislation did not include a window of justice for civil lawsuits.
We will soon find out who the Catholic church and its insurers have in their pockets!
by Ruairi Casey, Al Jezeera
Several of the UN's most senior officials have pledged to redouble efforts to stamp out sexual abuse and exploitation within the organisation at this week's general assembly in an attempt to eradicate a scourge that has shadowed its humanitarian work for decades.
The UN has been criticised for failing to properly handle hundreds of allegations made against its civilian staff and peacekeepers across the world, ranging from fathering children with women under their protection to transactional sex and child abuse.
Scandals have caused immense damage to its reputation and operations, particularly in Haiti, the Central African Republic and the other 13 countries where it runs peacekeeping missions. Secretary General Antonio Guterres last year called the issue a "global menace" and a top priority for his tenure as UN chief.
"The abuse not only undermines our values as humanitarians but he erodes the hard-earned trust the communities, the countries, our partners and donors place in us each and every day," Executive Director of UNICEF Henrietta Fore told a meeting of UN agencies, NGOs and member states in New York City this week.
Sometimes, the UN peacekeepers are the last hope for sanity and decency in the lives of people in war-torn countries. When they abuse women and children, all sense of hope is removed. How can you live without hope?
Fore called for a new change of culture throughout the UN, which employs 95,000 civilians and 90,000 police and soldiers, so victims feel able to come forward and report misconduct and perpetrators are sufficiently punished.
"We want fear and trust to trade places. We want perpetrators to feel fear and we want survivors to feel trust," she said.
The UN's mechanism for internal investigations became the subject of close scrutiny last year when leaked documents revealed it had botched 14 cases alleging sexual misconduct in the Central African Republic. The allegations dated mostly from 2016 and included rape and gang rape. Interviews were mishandled, the actions of the accused downplayed, and the cases were not added to the UN's online database.
Public distrust of the UN is widespread in the conflict-gripped state and victims are often unwilling to report rapes and killings by peacekeepers for fear of retribution.
Not keeping peace
More than 340 allegations have been made against peacekeepers since 2010, though senior UN figures have said the true number of cases may be well above those reported.
Of these, a UN investigation found 99 claims substantiated, leading to 90 repatriations. Some 37 soldiers were jailed in their home countries, 16 were dismissed, and others fined or demoted.
Chief of the Public Affairs Section at the UN's Departments of Peacekeeping and Field Support Nick Birnback told Al Jazeera the UN makes "robust" efforts to follow up with member states and record any punishments.
"There is no mission where [ending sexual abuse and exploitation] is not the highest priority," he said.
The rules regarding civilian staff are murkier as the UN is often reluctant to hand over its staff to authorities in countries where it deems police and judicial systems to be dysfunctional or corrupt.
A UN official told Al Jazeera that in cases where a case of sexual abuse or exploitation by civilian employee is substantiated, they are dismissed and their home country is notified of the misconduct. It is not clear though, in cases where a criminal sexual offence has been committed, how many states can claim legal jurisdiction over their citizens while abroad on UN missions, or how they would conduct such an investigation.
Guterres has urged member states to adopt an international convention to resolve this ambiguity.
Only 37 of the 181 allegations made against civilian staff across 32 UN field missions since 2010 were found to be substantiated, with 26 leading to termination or dismissal. UN records show two of these cases leading to criminal action, one ending in dismissal and another in demotion.
So, no-one went to prison!
A clearance system prevents staff with substantiated allegations against them being rehired within the UN, but offenders are not named publicly and the UN does not notify other organisations in the humanitarian sector to prevent their employment elsewhere.
Guterres appointed Australian legal and human rights expert Jane Connors to the new position of Victims' Rights Advocate (VRA) in September last year to bring a sharp focus on the rights and needs of the victim rather than simply punishing the perpetrator.
Connors has spoken with victims in five UN mission countries across three continents, continued to build a trust fund for survivors, and established four regional VRA positions in Haiti, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"What comes from the top is very important but it has to go right, right down and there has to be continual effort to make people understand that this is unacceptable conduct," she told Al Jazeera.
The needs of victims are diverse and must not be generalised, said Connors. Women who gave birth to children fathered by UN peacekeepers in Haiti told her they want secure healthcare and education for their children, while other victims in the Central African Republic want job and training opportunities.
"They want to go forwards with their lives," she said. "They wish to have their perpetrator held accountable but they are not sitting there on their hands waiting."
Critics have questioned the UN's ability to conduct investigations into its own staff, drawing comparisons to decades of sexual abuse covered-up by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, but Connors believes the required independence can be achieved within the organisation.
"I think you can be [independent] if you have the checks and balances," she said.
But some aid officials outside the UN are less optimistic about its promises of institutional reform from within. "The UN is doing the same thing over and over again and finding news ways to dress it up as positive, forward movement," said Paula Donovan, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue campaign to end sexual abuse in UN missions.
Code Blue has called for a fully-independent special court system with the power to investigate and prosecute UN officials and peacekeepers in any jurisdiction.
Donovan said member states are shirking their responsibilities and are reluctant to make the structural reforms within the UN required to tackle the problem. She also hit out at the "mystification" surrounding the legal immunity granted to UN staff.
Its officials across the world are given functional immunity, which protects them from local authorities when acting or speaking in line with their official duties.
Guterres has stressed that immunity offers no protection in cases of sexual abuse and exploitation, but Donovan claims this message has not taken root within the organisation, and that many victims are unaware they can pursue justice entirely outside the UN system.
"The UN has made it so complicated and so mysterious that its own staff, including even some senior officials, the population at large, the media, everyone is confused and thinks that somehow UN immunity means that only the UN can investigate and take action when crimes are committed by their own personnel," she said.
"It's not fair. It can't happen that [UN staff] are the only people who can get away with sex crimes."