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Legal relief

March 23, 2011

Germany's cabinet has approved a bill to allow of in adults who were sexually abused as children to sue for damages decades later.

a man lures a young girl
The current three-year restriction means many cases are ignoredImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Adults who were victims of sexual abuse as children will soon have considerably longer to sue for damages in German court. Germany's cabinet approved legislation on Wednesday that extends the statute of limitations to take legal action in civil cases from three to 30 years after a victim's 21st birthday.

The legislation is expected to pass in parliament later this year.

The government was prompted to change the current limitation by last year's Catholic Church sex scandal, in which German clerics were accused of over 50 sexual abuse cases in the 1970s and '80s. Victims had little chance of pursuing such cases in court due to the three-year limit to take legal action.

Thousands of claims

The new legislation is meant to increase victim protection. The bill recommends courts record testimonies on video without requiring victims to come in contact with their one-time tormenters. People who were victims of sex crimes as children or teenagers will not be required to pay for a lawyer. In the event that their perpetrators are convicted, victims will receive detailed information on their sentencing, such as parole status.

According to the government's commissioner on sexual abuse, Christine Bergmann, her department has received over 10,000 calls and letters from victims since April 2010 and is still receiving 50 complaints daily. The former family minister is set to present a final report in May, in which she will propose material compensation for abuse victims.

The statute of limitations for criminal cases will remain at three to 30 years, depending on the charges.

Author: Christian Nathler
Editor: Nancy Isenson