14.04.2022 Angela Sdrinis issued the following media release on 11 April 2022 “Tasmanian Government Relying on “Consent” of minors in Institutional Abuse Claims”

Tasmanian government accused of slut-shaming abuse victims | The Mercury

 

Following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Tasmanian State Government introduced crucial changes to Tasmanian Limitation of actions legislation.  The changes came into force on 1 July 2018 and were designed to allow survivors of child sexual or serious physical abuse to seek compensation at any time, understanding that many survivors of child abuse do not disclose to anyone until many years later. 

 

The Honourable Elise Archer MP in her Second Reading Speech in parliament stated that:

 

“Some of these claims may be made against the State because of abuse that occurred in State care. However, the Government believes that the victims of these egregious crimes should be permitted to seek compensation at common law if they wish to do so.”

 

What we have seen in practice, however, is that in selected matters the State of Tasmania has attempted to sideline the legislative reforms by arguing that if a child “consented” to the sexual activity, then they cannot rely on those reforms to seek compensation. 

 

In a matter currently before the courts, our client was a ward of the State and only 14 years old at the time she alleges she was sexually abused by an older man and that the alleged abuse continued even after the State was put on notice that it was occurring. In its defence to her claim, the State has argued that just because the sexual activity was a crime does not mean it was “sexual abuse” for the purposes of the amendments to the Limitation Act because the abuse was “consensual.”

 

This argument has been raised in both Ward of State and Department of Education matters where the adult perpetrator was clearly in a position of power and authority over the claimant.

 

One client was 16 years old when she was sexually abused by a teacher at St Michael’s Collegiate in the early 1990s.  In 2017 her perpetrator was convicted of the sexual offences against her and in 2021 Angela Sdrinis Legal settled her common law claim for damages against the school in recognition of the profound impact the abuse had on her subsequent life and experiences. She has expressed outrage on hearing that the State Government would rely on “consent” to prevent female survivors from seeking compensation.

 

As someone who is a survivor of sexual abuse, I feel a responsibility to speak out.  I have a daughter reaching the age I was at the time I was being groomed and it is terrifying. I don’t want my daughters to see me sitting idly by when I have the power to make change.  To say a young girl has “consented” to sexual abuse at the hands of an older man in a position of power and authority over them is absolutely devastating to me.  It is not just victim blaming but slut shaming.  I was called a slut at the time I was being abused.  And now the State of Tasmania is basically saying that people like me asked for the horrific trauma we went through. It is outrageous.”

 

To date, the State of Tasmania is the only institutional defendant that we have dealt with to have raised this defence.  We also note that despite matters where similar circumstances have arisen where young males could be said to be in a “consensual” sexual relationship with their perpetrator, not once has the State raised this defence against a male survivor.  It is not surprising that female survivors would see such a defence as “slut shaming”. 

 

As a Model Litigant, the State of Tasmania has an obligation not to rely on “technical issues where the State will not suffer prejudice, unless it is necessary to do so in the public interest, or to protect the State’s interests”.  We say that not only is the State relying on a technical legal defence unnecessarily, but it is a morally repugnant and gendered defence that is against the public interest. 

 

Note that following media coverage of this story, the Tasmanian Government announced it would no longer pursue this particular defence.

 

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