Statute of Limitations weighted in favour of child abusers
Portugal is one of the European countries with the poorest rating in the legal protection of victims of child sexual abuse, according to an international report, which criticises the short time limitation periods for these crimes.
According to the report “Justice Unleashed: Ending Limitations, Protecting Children”, authored by the Brave movement and the Child Global organisation, Portugal is in the group of countries with “poor” limitation periods for crimes related to child sexual abuse, alongside Lithuania, Finland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Countries that do not place limitation periods on all or most offences associated with sexual crime against children include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark and Georgia.
“Prosecution of child sexual abuse decades after it occurs is scientifically justified because the damage caused by childhood sexual trauma does not disappear during childhood and adolescence,” the document reads, indicating that Portugal is one of the last countries in the European region that has not yet suspended the application of the limitation period until the age of majority for these crimes – and that it should take urgent measures to review this situation.
The impact of the Casa Pia (charity home) case on this subject was referred to in the report, which emphasised that media coverage of the case led to changes in the law.
The work of the Independent Commission for the Study of Sexual Abuse of Children in the Catholic Church was also referenced in the document published on Wednesday, which notes that the overwhelming majority of offences logged were time-barred.
The report also mentions the debate in recent months in parliament on a government proposal to start counting the limitation period only after the victim reaches the age of majority (18 years old) – establishing in most cases the limit of denunciation at 25 years, with a maximum of 33 years of age reserved for the most serious crimes.
This law, which transposes a European directive on combating sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, was approved at first reading by parliament about a month ago, having moved on to the committee stage.
The two organisations responsible for this report argue that, despite the proposal to extend the current 23-year age limit, the legislative change falls short of best practice: “This continues to put Portugal significantly behind its EU peers and fails to address the justice deficit for Portuguese victims.”
Among the main advantages related to the abolition of limitation periods for crimes of child sexual abuse, the authors highlight greater public awareness due to the disclosure of these crimes, the protection of more children from the risk of recidivism by abusers, the authorisation of evidence discovered about crimes that occurred many years earlier and the end of protection for institutions that covered up abuse.
According to Brave and Child Global, “abolishing all statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse is clearly best practice to enable victims to access justice, protect future children and benefit communities”, with both organisations praising the “widespread benefits” of ending age limits for reporting child sexual offences.