Judicial considerations of reasonable conduct by survivors of child sexual abuse

Mathews, Benjamin P. (2004) Judicial considerations of reasonable conduct by survivors of child sexual abuse. University of New South Wales Law Journal, 27(3), pp. 631-666.


Typical consequences of child sexual abuse, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (‘PTSD’), prevent many survivors of this abuse bringing civil legal proceedings within the statutory time limit. On discovering the nature and extent of their psychiatric injury, or its connection with the abuse, survivors may apply to the court for an extension of time to allow their claim to proceed. Outcomes of these applications often turn on judgments about the survivor’s knowledge of the injury and its cause, and about whether the survivor has taken reasonable steps to discover the nature, extent and cause of their injuries. Reported cases of applications for extensions of time in this context are rare, but Queensland has an emerging body of decisions. These cases demonstrate that judgments about the issues of knowledge and reasonable conduct are made without considering evidence about the symptomatology of PTSD, especially the avoidance criterion. This article summarises the consequences of child sexual abuse, focussing on PTSD, before outlining the statutory provisions for extensions of time. Case studies of applications by survivors with PTSD to extend time are then synthesised. The psychological evidence is used as a standard against which to analyse judicial reasoning about survivors’ knowledge and ‘reasonable’ conduct. Finally, the question of whether PTSD can constitute a legal disability in the context of an application for an extension of time is addressed. Because similar questions are raised by extension provisions in nearly all Australian jurisdictions, the analysis in this article has implications for future cases in both Queensland and other jurisdictions.

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ID Code: 6423
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: No
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Law , survivors of child sexual abuse
ISSN: 0313-0096
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2004 UNSW, Faculty of Law
Copyright Statement: Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Deposited On: 12 Mar 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 13:07

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