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September 28, 2004

Prescription ruling in sexual abuse case a 'first' for SA

In the first case of its kind in SA, the Supreme Court of Appeal yesterday handed down a ruling that prescription will only start to run in child sexual abuse claims brought by adult survivors of such abuse once the survivors are aware they were not to blame for the abuse. The SCA agreed with the Women’s Legal Centre (WLC), acting on behalf of the appellant, Esme Van Zijl, that courts cannot treat sexual abuse cases as equivalent to other damages cases and that abused children must have right of recourse against their abusers. Michelle O’Sullivan, the Director of the WLC, says: ‘The case will impact on how future cases of child s exual abuse will be handled by the courts, as other survivors will now be able to bring claims knowing that the law has developed an appreciation of the psychological obstacles that prevent adult survivors from bringing such claims. The law no longer conspires with perpetrators of child abuse to silence victims by preventing survivors from claiming damages later in life, as it is now recognised that it is the abuse itself that often prevents a survivor from taking action. Abusers will not be able to rely on the Prescription Act to avoid such claims.’ In terms of prescription laws in SA a minor has three years after attaining majority within which to bring a claim for civil damages. However, Van Zijl initiated her claim for damages for psychological disturbance and other injuries sustained as a result of the childhood s exual abuse well beyond the three-year time limit.’ SABC News reports that Van Zijl's initial civil action against her uncle, Imker Hoogenhout, was dismissed in the Cape High Court in 1997. The High Court stated that it had no reason to doubt the truth of Van Zijl's evidence (she alleged that she was sexually abused and r aped by her uncle from the age of six until she was 15), but refused to grant her leave to appeal. She then took the matter to the SCA to ask for leave to appeal against the High Court ruling. This application has now been granted with costs.
Full report on the Legalbrief TODAY site
Full SABC News report

 

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