Many European countries are failing to deliver justice to survivors of child sexual abuse, according to a report released on Thursday.
The report by Brave Movement and Child Global, leading international advocacy groups for protecting children from sexual abuse, calls for the abolition of statutes of limitation (SOLs) for all types of child sexual violence and abuse.
SOLs limit the amount of time a victim has to launch criminal proceedings after the crime has been committed and leave authorities in many European countries unable to expose sex abuse offenders or deliver justice to survivors.
According to the groups’ analysis of relevant judicial frameworks, Luxembourg, Estonia, Greece, Malta, Czech Republic, Portugal, Lithuania, Finland, Slovakia and Bulgaria are the worst offenders. In these countries, victims of all or most child sexual abuse are unable to report the crime after reaching the age of 40.
Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Slovenia and Latvia are in the second tier, where the statute of limitations runs out after the victim reaches 40, even though the average age of disclosure of abuse is over 50.
Ireland, Cyprus, Denmark and Belgium are the only EU countries where victims can report all or most child sex offences regardless of the amount of time that has passed since the crime was committed.
Child sexual abuse is a public health ‘epidemic’ in Europe, the report says. One in five children in Europe today suffers some kind of sexual violence in their lives, the equivalent of 16 million children in the 27 EU member states.
'A fundamental human right'
Short criminal statutes of limitations silence victims, perpetuating their trauma and stigma and contributing to a public health crisis that costs Europe billions.
“Effective access to justice for survivors of child sexual violence should not be an optional luxury but a fundamental human right. But all over Europe survivors are denied justice because of arbitrary criminal and civil statute of limitations,” said Miguel Hurtado, survivor, child psychiatrist and Brave movement co-founder.
“We urge European nations to take this historic opportunity to endorse the gold standard for child protection: complete abolition of criminal and civil statute of limitations for the sake of future generations,” he added.
Brave Movement co-founder Dr Matthew McVarish spoke at the Council of Europe in May about his own abuse at the hands of his uncle, and being able to finally seek justice aged 25.
“My uncle sexually abused me and three of my brothers throughout our childhood, and after a decade of therapy I finally felt able to approach the police in Scotland. I had to break my silence because my uncle was still teaching, and abusing, countless other boys," he said.
"Thankfully I was allowed to press charges, but if my uncle had abused us in various other European nations, he would simply not have been arrested. A repeat child sex offender, with four known victims, would be left to continue working in schools, despite authorities being fully aware that he is a definite threat to other children."
"We are the children who were abused, and we will not let another decade pass before the people with the power to change what must change take the action that only they can. We ask you, on behalf of your children, to change this now.”
The report also proposes that the Council of Europe’s Lanzarote Convention, which aims to protect children against sexual exploitation and abuse, is amended to eliminate criminal limitation periods in child sexual offences across all of its member states.