Earlier this month, we wrote about efforts in Pennsylvania to change statute-of-limitations laws in cases related to child sex abuse. The problem with current laws is that they are inconsistent with how victims commonly process their abuse.
Memories of child sex abuse can be repressed for decades before victims begin having flashbacks. In other cases, victims remember the abuse but are not ready to face their accusers or disclose what happened to them until well into adulthood. By the time victims are ready to pursue justice in criminal and civil court, the statutes of limitation may have already expired.
Many states are considering laws that would change or eliminate statutes of limitation in child sex abuse cases, but the terms vary from state to state. Some want to do away with civil statutes of limitation (for seeking damages against the abuser), while others want to eliminate or elongate the criminal SOL. Certain states have also created temporary “look back” periods of one or two years, in which victims previously barred by an expired SOL could pursue a lawsuit against their abuser.
State senator Brad Hoylman is one legislator pushing for changes in New York. He recently wrote an article in the New York Daily News discussing legislation that he is sponsoring. According to Sen. Hoylman, the Child Victims Act would make two significant changes. First, it would eliminate the civil statute of limitations when “certain sex offenses” had been committed against a minor (the current SOL expires when victims turn 23 years old). Second, it would open up a one-year “look back” period like the one mentioned above.
For certain crimes and certain non-criminal harms, statutes of limitation make sense. It probably would not be reasonable for someone to be prosecuted for shoplifting 20 years after the fact, for example. But victims of child sex abuse are particularly vulnerable to the effects of abuse and the consequences will impact them for the rest of their lives. In such cases, they should not be denied the opportunity to seek justice because of an arbitrary statute of limitations.