The Rise of Statutes of Limitation Revival Laws
Statutes of Limitation Revival Laws create what are referred to as “lookback windows”. These allow those whose statute of limitations for civil claims have expired to file suit against their perpetrator and/or the organization that allowed the abuse to happen.
One of the most prominent examples of this would be the New York Child Victim’s Act. Almost 1000 lawsuits have been filed so far. These are lawsuits that no victims would have been able to file given the expired limitations period. But why are civil claims for sexual abuse not filed within the original time limit?
The Problem: There’s Not Enough Time to File Civil Claims for Sexual Abuse
Most criminal statutes of limitation for sex crimes in Missouri and Kansas have been eliminated. The criminal court system typically results in jail time for the perpetrator. This can give victims a sense of safety and justice, but little is done to compensate for the mental, emotional, and psychological injuries sustained. Civil courts offer recovery for victims and survivors whose lives have been devastated by abuse.
In Missouri, a childhood victim has 10 years after their 21st birthday to file a lawsuit against an individual perpetrator. To sue a company that was negligent surrounding the sexual abuse, such as a daycare, school, religious organization, or healthcare provider who negligently hired or retained the perpetrator despite known “red flags” in their employment history, a minor has 5 years after their 21stbirthday to file a lawsuit. While there is more time to bring a lawsuit against an individual (i.e., age 31), the prospect of securing monetary justice is much more challenging.
An Unrealistic Window of Time
At first glance, 5 to 10 years may seem like enough time to bring a civil claim, but real-life data indicates otherwise. It can take much longer for a victim of child sexual abuse to come forward. They have to first understand what happened to them, then have the courage to open up about the abuse, and finally to take legal action against their abuser. This can take many years, if they ever disclose the abuse at all. Darkness to Light reports:
“Researchers estimate that 38% of child victims disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused. Of these, 40% tell a close friend, rather than an adult or authority. These “friend-to-friend” disclosures do not always result in reports. This means that the vast majority of child sexual abuse incidents are never reported to authorities, though research suggests that disclosure rates to authorities may be increasing.”
The average age to disclose childhood sexual abuse is 52 years old. By then, a victim’s statutes of limitation in Missouri will have been expired for 21 years. While the rise of the #MeToo movement has given more people hope and courage to come forward, it is still an incredibly difficult feat. By the time they move forward with legal action, there is often nothing that can be done civilly. Victims often find themselves unable to pursue compensation due to an unrealistic window of time to file civil claims.
What Stops Reporting?
Sometimes people may not immediately recognize that what happened to them was abuse. Perpetrators take advantage of a child’s limited perception and general trust in adults. Many times, it is not until they get older, and have had a meaningful opportunity to seek (and afford) treatment, that they realize that what happened was inappropriate.
It can be easier to pretend the abuse never happened, rather than face the pain, fear, and shame that comes with admitting abuse. Especially if the perpetrator was someone the child trusted. Three out of four adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well.
Often times, perpetrators will threaten the victim that they will harm them or their family if they disclose what happened. That fear can last well into adulthood. There is also the fear they will not be believed if they do open up. Some even fear the consequences that will follow. They may fear that they, or even a trusted abuser, will be in trouble. This is often true for victims who have been groomed by their perpetrator.
Victims do not want anyone to know what happened due to feeling embarrassed and disgusted. Perpetrators will feed into the idea that the victim somehow “caused” the abuse to happen.
The memories of the traumatic event can be repressed altogether. Later in life there may be a triggering event that will recall the events. While extremely difficult to successfully navigate, “repressed memory” exceptions are recognized by courts, including Missouri and Kansas, as a way to extend the statute, but are very much a grey area within the law.
The Solution: Statutes of Limitation Revival Laws
Child USA states the goal of these revival laws are to:
- Identify hidden child predators
- Shift the cost of abuse from victims and the public to the ones who caused it
- Educate the public and prevent future abuse.
The filed lawsuit goes through the same procedures as if it were filed within the previous window of time. There is still due process, the burden of proof is still on the plaintiff.
The hope is to give victims the opportunity to receive compensation for a lifetime of pain and suffering, and to motivate organizations to improve their policies and screening processes for new employees.
In the past few years alone, many statutes of limitation revival laws have been enacted into law across the United States. Each have different guidelines and restrictions on who can bring a claim, and who can be sued:
- Arizona: 19-month window opened May 27th, 2019. Also revived SOL up to age 30.
- Arkansas: 2-year window opens February 1, 2022.
- California: 3-year window opened on January 1, 2020. Also revived SOL up to age 40.
- Colorado: 3-year window opened on January 1, 2022 for claims of abuse occurring from 1960-2021; subject to damages caps. New cause of action isn’t a revival law but is included because opens a window for survivors to file claims that have expired.
- Connecticut: Revives SOL up to age 48.
- Delaware: 2-year window revived SOL against perpetrators, private organizations and government. Added 2-year window for healthcare providers.
- Georgia: 2-year window revived SOL against perpetrators only.
- Guam: Permanently revives all expired claims
- Hawaii: 2-year window revived SOL. Extended 2-year window was open until April 24, 2020.
- Kentucky: Revives SOL up to 5 years after the date the SOL expired.
- Louisiana: 3-year window revives SOL against any party.
- Maine: Permanently revives all expired claims against any party.
- Massachusetts: Revives SOL up to age 53 against perpetrators only.
- Michigan: In 2018, 90-day window revived SOL for victims of Larry Nassar only.
- Minnesota: 3-year window.
- Montana: 1-year window opened on May 7, 2019. Also revived SOL up to age 27.
- Nevada: Permanently revives all expired claims against perpetrators or persons criminally liable for sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor. Also revives SOL up to age 38.
- New Jersey: 2-year window opened December 1, 2019. Also revived SOL up to age 55.
- New York: 1-year window opened August 14, 2019. 2-year window for expired gender-motivated violence, including CSA and sexual assault claims will open on March 1, 2023 against all types of defendants for abuse that occurred in New York City- Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
- North Carolina: 2-year window opened on January 1, 2020.
- Northern Mariana Islands: Permanently revives all expired claims.
- Oregon: Revives SOL up to age 40
- Rhode Island: Revives SOL up to age 53 against perpetrators only.
- Utah: Revival law is not in effect because it was held unconstitutional in 2020.
- Vermont: Permanently revives all expired claims against perpetrators, private organizations and government.
- West Virginia: Revives SOL up to age 36.
- Washington D.C.: 2-year window opened on May 3, 2019. Window applied to all child sex abuse victims up to age 40 or those who discovered their abuse less than 5 years ago.
In addition, many states are reforming laws that give victims more time moving forward with a civil suit.
What Can We Do Now?
Once these lookback windows close, what happens? By discussing the issue of sexual abuse, and why these laws are needed, it allows opportunities for people to learn more about the legal issues surrounding sexual abuse.
We can educate ourselves, friends, and families about warning signs of sexual abuse in children. By being able to identify these warning signs, we can stop the abuse and help the child more quickly.
We can continue to promote education to the public of the civil rights that victims of sexual abuse have. The more that information becomes common knowledge, the easier and faster it will be for victims and their families to seek legal help. Our attorneys have created a booklet just for that purpose.
Finally, we can fight for longer, or the elimination of, civil statutes of limitation for childhood sexual abuse. Currently in Missouri the statutes of limitation for filing a lawsuit against a negligent company is 5 years. But, aims to shorten the statute to 2 years. Simply, this bill hurts those who are already suffering, and keeps corporations from being held accountable.
With more and more states adopting lookback windows and revival laws, we look forward to joining the fight in Missouri and Kansas as we work to see similar change adopted in our home states.