The statute of limitations for sexual crimes committed against minors currently starts from when the victim turns 18. New amendments to Malta’s criminal code announced in the past days will change that to when the victim turns 23. It is a step in the right direction but falls far short of what is needed.
The Lisa Maria Foundation, having the well-being of children and young people at the core of its mission, has long maintained that prescription must go, completely. There should be no ‘use-by date’ for justice for victims of child abuse. All barriers must be removed in their entirety once and for all.
Victims of child abuse reach out to us well into their adulthood, recalling the trauma they have been through and the emotional and psychological repercussions that last a lifetime. Recently, following an interview on local television explaining the foundation’s stand against prescription, I was contacted by a lady, well into her middle years, who explained the trauma she’s been through when her childhood was robbed by a relative in whose care she was trusted. She has not yet mustered the courage to speak up but would consider doing so if the criminal justice system does not get in her way of seeking justice.
I also received a second call from another lady who explained that she went through a serious case of sexual abuse when she was young and when she eventually got her day in court, her abuser admitted to the charges but was let free with no punishment due to the period of prescription having elapsed. In her words, she explained: “I was abused by the individual and now I feel further abused by our justice system that works in the favour of my aggressor.”
Child abuse in Malta is, unfortunately, a reality occurring at a rate comparable to other western countries and, this being a small island, denouncing one’s abuser becomes a particularly difficult task. An assessment of child abuse in Malta is needed, followed by policy decisions, further community support and the legal tools necessary for justice to be done.
Time-barring gives victims a stipulated number of years in which to denounce their abuser and, once that time lapses, the victim is left to pick up the pieces, causing untold emotional and psychological harm to the victim and his or her loved ones. Our foundation has consistently argued that our criminal justice system should be more child-focused. We are not there yet. Far from it. And, unfortunately, half-baked decisions such as the one announced by the minister of justice in the past days just go to show that we are simply not taking the matter as seriously as it deserves to be.
There should be no ‘use-by date’ for justice for victims of child abuse– Winston Zahra
It is a fact that many victims of sexual abuse take years to process what they have been through and muster the courage to speak up. The betrayal experience of child-abuse trauma is often a source of mistrust that influences a victim’s quality of relationships later on in life.
The criminal justice system must ensure that victims have all the legal remedies available to them to speak up and seek justice without a timeline hanging over their heads. The new amendments to the criminal code, while well-intentioned, simply do not go far enough.
The Lisa Maria Foundation is not alone in insisting that prescription must be scrapped. Leading professionals in the field of child welfare and well-being have made their position clear for the removal of prescription. Andrew Azzopardi, head of the Church’s Safeguarding Commission, and Children’s Commissioner, Pauline Miceli, have in the recent past called for time-bars on offences involving the sexual abuse of children to be removed completely.
Theirs is a learned position derived from years of experience with sexual abuse victims.
As a foundation, we have also spoken to various professionals who help support victims of child abuse and they have reinforced our opinion on this matter and left us in no doubt whatsoever that the right thing to do is to remove prescription from such cases.
Nothing should hinder a young person, or an adult, from seeking justice no matter how many years would have passed from when the abuse took place. There is never any excuse for violence against children.
Let us learn from the experience of other countries which, in similar cases, put the well-being of victims first. Australia, England, Canada and South Africa have done away with time limits for child sex abuse cases.
Removal of time-barring would send a strong message that Maltese society does not tolerate such heinous crimes that rob people of their childhood and inflict psychological repercussions throughout their lives.
Let’s take bolder action to fully support victims of child abuse and ensure that their abusers are brought to justice without limiting the time during which this can be done.
The Lisa Maria Foundation will continue fighting to ensure that the government takes a bolder step in supporting victims of sexual abuse and scraps time-barring in child sexual abuse cases once and for all.
The Lisa Maria Foundation is also calling upon the authorities to make the sexual offenders register accessible to employers and organisations that have a duty of care towards children and young people in a manner that is free, easy and immediate.
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