Friday, January 31, 2020 - Fifteen states have now passed and revised laws to allow victims of sexual abuse to seek justice for their suffering. These laws extend or suspend statutes of limitations that have trapped many victims in silence, many of whom were children when the alleged abuse took place.
Thousands of alleged victims have now come forward thanks to these laws, and bills to modify current statutes of limitations are being proposed in other states as well.
These changes have come about largely because of increased awareness about sexual abuse -- particularly abuse that has occurred within institutions such as churches, corporations, and community-based organizations.
Lawmakers are beginning to recognize the influence that many institutions have had for years in discouraging victims to report abuse. They are also recognizing that children who are sexually abused experience trauma and shame that frequently keeps them from acknowledging or talking about their experiences -- much less reporting them -- until many years have passed.
Advocates say that much credit is due to the #MeToo movement and media coverage, such as the award-winning Boston Globe series, featured in the movie "Spotlight," that exposed years of cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church.
Here are the states that are leading the way:
"Lookback windows," which give victims the opportunity to file civil suits against their alleged abusers and the institution where they worked no matter how much time has passed, have now been established in eight states and the District of Columbia:
New York: August 14, 2019, New York opened a one-year window in which to file lawsuits that had previously been subject to statutes of limitations. After August 14, 2020, lawsuits can be filed up until a childhood victim is 55 years of age, up from the previous law's 23 years of age.
New Jersey: A two-year window to file new lawsuits, regardless of the amount of time that has passed, began December 1, 2019. When the window expires, new lawsuits can be filed until an alleged childhood victim is 55 years of age, up from the previous law's limit of 20 years of age.
California: Victims now have a three-year window to file a lawsuit, which began January 1, 2020. Victims are now entitled to triple the amount of damages if they can prove that a cover-up has taken place. When the window to file closes, childhood victims can file lawsuits until they reach the age of 40 years old, up from the previous limit of 26 years old.
Arizona : A 19-month window opened in June 2019 to allow victims to file lawsuits with no limitations on the amount of time that has passed since abuse occurred. When the window closes in January 2021, victims who were abused as children will still be able to file lawsuits until they are 30 years old. Previously, they could file lawsuits until they reached the age of 20 years old.
Montana: In Montana, victims were given a one-year window to file a lawsuit against their alleged abuser(s) May 7, 2019. After May 7, 2020, the age until which childhood victims will be allowed to file will be raised to 27 years old, up from the previous limit of 24 years old.
Hawaii: Hawaii has been especially progressive in acknowledging childhood sexual abuse, passing the first lookback window in 2012. In 2018, the window to file re-opened, but will expire in April 2020.
Vermont: Vermont lawmakers have enacted the most versatile sexual abuse reporting laws, eliminating age limits to report altogether, and opening a window for childhood victims to report sexual abuse at any time in their lives, regardless of how much time has passed, that never expires.
North Carolina: North Carolina opened a two-year window to report any sexual abuse on January 1, 2020. When the window expires, victims will be allowed to file a lawsuit against child sex abusers until they are 28 years old, up from the previous limit of 21 years old.
District of Columbia: Washington, D.C. opened a two-year window to report any sexual abuse in May 2019. When the window expires in May 2021, victims will have until they are 40 years old to report abuse. The previous reporting law allowed victims to report childhood abuse until they were 25 years old.
Seven states have recognized that victims of childhood sexual abuse often suffer for years before they are able to acknowledge abuse or stand up to their abusers. These states have changed their statutes of limitations, providing victims with more time to file civil cases against their abusers.
Some states have also passed "discovery" rules that allow victims to sue their abusers years after statutes of limitations have expired if they did not realize the impact of abuse until later.
The following states have extended their sexual abuse statutes of limitations:
Alabama: Childhood sexual abuse victims now have until they are 25 years old to file a case, up from 21 years old.
Rhode Island: Victims previously only had until they were 25 years old to file a case against their alleged abusers and until they were 21 years old to file a case against responsible institutions. Now they have until they are 53 years old to file lawsuits against either.
Connecticut: In June 2019, Connecticut raised the age limit for filing a case against an alleged childhood sexual abuser to 51 years old, up from 48 years old.
Tennessee: Childhood victims now have until they are 33 years old to file a lawsuit against their abuser. Previously, the law only allowed a suit to be filed until the victim was 19 years old.
Texas: Texas childhood victims of sexual abuse now have until they are 48 years old to file a lawsuit against their abusers. Previously, they could file until they were 33 years old to file.
Michigan: In 2018, Michigan lawmakers raised the age limit to file a lawsuit against a childhood sexual abuser to 28 years old, up from the previous limit of 19 years old.
Pennsylvania: The news is mixed in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers raised filing age for childhood victims to 55 years old. However, they also ensured the law is not retroactive. Claims that had already been filed by victims who were older than the previous limit of 30 years cannot be refiled.
Though 15 states have taken significant strides, more needs to be done to send a message to abusers and the institutions that have protected them.
Thirty-five states have yet to take action by amending and passing laws that allow victims to seek the justice they deserve and need. Without this justice, victims cannot fully heal from the pain they have suffered.
At OnderLaw, we believe that the institutional sexual abuse of children has been hidden for far too long, and restrictions that keep victims from seeking justice have made many states complicit in maintaining a cultural shroud of secrecy.
When the nation's courts began acknowledging domestic abuse in the 1980s and 1990s, meaningful changes began that have protected countless lives. We believe revisions in current laws that protect sexual abusers and the institutions that shelter them will have a similar effect on the lives of millions of children.
Even if you have not been a victim of childhood sexual abuse, chances are good that you know someone who has been. According to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA), there are 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in the United States. NAASCA estimates that two-thirds to 90% of those victims never report their abuse.
You can stand up for these victims by calling your state representatives and urging them to stand up for childhood sexual abuse survivors by introducing and passing lookback window laws and extending time limits for victims to file civil cases against their abusers and the institutions that have enabled them.
If you are a victim of sexual abuse and would like to pursue justice against your abuser(s), no matter where you live in the United States, we'd like to hear from you. Contact OnderLaw at 314-963-9000, or click here to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
We are proud to join the fight in holding individuals and institutions accountable, and in giving victims the opportunity to be heard. Our team of experts will provide a confidential review at no cost to you and do all we can to help you to begin the journey to healing.
OnderLaw, LLC in St. Louis has developed a solid reputation of excellence as a personal injury law firm handling serious injury and death claims across the country. Its mission is the pursuit of justice, no matter how complex the case or strenuous the effort. The Onder Law Firm has represented clients throughout the United States in pharmaceutical and medical device litigation, including Pradaxa, Lexapro and Yasmin/Yaz, Actos, Risperdal and others. The Onder Law Firm has won verdicts of more than $300 million in talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits, and has more experience representing Bayer/Monsanto glyphosate cancer victims than any other law firm in the country.