Mass. Sen. Will Brownsberger outlined his plans to pass a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse during the coming months of the congressional session.
“Victims of childhood sexual abuse often take decades to realize what has really happened to them, we need to have a statute of limitations structured to recognize that reality,” wrote Brownsberger on his website.
He said the bill would allow victims of sexual abuse to file a lawsuit until the age of 55, instead of 21 and allow victims over the age of 55 a one-year window to file a lawsuit.
Brownsberger said the bill was first filed on Jan. 22 after informal talks failed to amount to legislation in the last Massachusetts Senate session. If the bill is passed, it will be effective July 1.
“It’s really hard to sort out what has happened and how things fell apart, I don’t really want to point a finger at anybody at this stage, I think its more productive to try to move forward,” he said.
Although this bill would make it easier for victims to face their accusers in court, some law experts said this is not enough and sexual abuse charges should be treated more severely.
“The amendment of the bill is a step in the right direction, and it should in the very least increase the statute of limitations to age 55 with a one-year window for those older than age 55 to be able to sue or file complaint,” said Mitchell Garabedian, principal attorney at Law Offices of Mitchell Garabedian.
Garabedian said Brownsberger’s bill is insufficient and that these cases should allow victims to accuse their attackers at any time.
“Ideally, there should be no statute of limitations in these kinds of cases involving sexual abuse, just as there are no statute of limitations in murder cases,” he said.
Garabedian, who specializes in sexual abuses cases, said the bill would open the window to a much wider extent, but a large group would still be left out and not be able to file lawsuits.
“In sexual abuse cases, an individual can come forward when that individual’s coping mechanisms allow that victim to come forward, it is not a voluntary process,” he said. “It is a process that takes decades, and it’s a process that allows many individuals to come forward only when they’re older than 55.”
Deborah Abelman, an early childhood specialist who works in Boston, said the best course of action is to have no statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases.
“[Sexual abuse] changes you forever — you are no longer the person you might have been, so it is like murder, and if we have no statute of limitations [for murder cases], then for this too we should have no statute of limitations,” Abelman said.
Abelman said extending the age limit to 55 is not enough and further expansions to the bill should be made before it is passed.
“There are some times when it makes sense to compromise, and there are some times when compromise isn’t an option,” she said. “If we’re going to [pass this bill], we need to do it right.”