Germany to bolster rights of sex abuse victims

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Germany's justice minister unveiled a draft law Wednesday dramatically extending the period in which victims of sexual violence can seek civil damages, in a step toward bolstering their legal rights.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger presented plans for the legislation at a meeting of an action group on sexual abuse of children, which convened for the first time in April in the wake of a scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church.

The new law would extend the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits against perpetrators of sexual violence and their enablers to 30 years from three currently, she said in a statement.

The legislation also foresees other measures to help victims of molestation navigate the criminal justice system.

"A victim should under no circumstances fall victim a second time due to difficult conditions at a trial," she said.

The minister did not indicate when the draft law would be presented to parliament.

She said the action group would also hammer out new guidelines by early next year to put pressure on institutions such as schools and churches to report suspicion of child sexual abuse immediately.

The so-called Round Table action group includes around 60 representatives from the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, child protection organisations, sports clubs, psychologists, pediatricians and lawyers as well as government ministers.

Germany has faced an onslaught of hundreds of sexual abuse allegations this year, many dating back decades, involving Roman Catholic but also Lutheran and secular institutions.

Most happened too long ago for the perpetrators to face criminal charges and civil suits.

© 2010 AFP

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