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Lawmakers challenge statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases

Sexual abuse of children is an issue that is hard to think about and even harder to discuss. The children who become victims of this vile and inexcusable crime may be affected by it for decades without even consciously remembering that it happened. The trauma may be so intense that they repress the memory of it, only to have it surface years later.

Sadly, this means that the criminals who sexually abuse children may not be held accountable for years, if ever. To make matters worse, the statute of limitations sometimes prevents victims from filing a lawsuit against their abuser if and when they are finally able to work through the trauma. Thankfully, some state legislatures have recognized this problem and are considering laws that would give victims more time to sue their abusers.

Here in Pennsylvania, for instance, adults typically have until age 30 to file a civil lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse. In California, the age limit for child sex abuse lawsuits is 26 years old. However, the state legislature is considering a bill that may give victims a chance at justice even if they are outside the statute of limitations.

The state Assembly recently passed a bill that would essentially put a one-year moratorium on the statute of limitations in certain sex abuse cases. During that year-long window, victims who suffered childhood sexual abuse by an employee of a religious organization, non-profit or other private organization could file a lawsuit against their abuser's employer.

Some lawmakers who were on the fence about voting for the bill wanted to amend it to include lawsuits against public institutions as well. One of the bill's authors said that this would have to be addressed in a separate bill because it would require lawmakers to focus on a separate section of state law. However, such a bill may be put forth in the future.

The bill now heads to the Senate where it will hopefully be passed.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, "Assembly passes bill to allow sex-abuse lawsuits," Laura Olson, Sept. 4, 2013

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