Most state lawbooks contain statutes of limitations, setting limits on how much time can pass before states can no longer charge a person with a crime, or a person can no longer file a civil suit. After three years, or seven years, or whatever, form some offenses it’s time to move on. There are exemptions, of course. There is no statute of limitations for murder, for example. It is too heinous a crime to simply allow someone to go unpunished if a case can be made even decades later.
Similar consideration should be given to child sex abuse accusations. Last week charges were dismissed against a former Shattuck-St. Mary’s teacher accused of abusing a 14-year-old student some 32 years ago. The state’s statute of limitations, which was three years in 1980 when the crime occured, (the limit was changed to seven years in 1984) had long since passed. So even though the teacher admitted his crime to police, he will go unpunished, outside of the public exposure the crime has received. State law also says a person who suffered sexual abused before they were 18 has only until the age of 24 to file a civil suit.
The state should remove the statute of limitations on such predators. Their young victims suffer emotional damage that may not emerge for years. The victims may hide this knowledge from their parents, even block it from their own memory until it festers up again years later. The emotional pain and suffering don’t stop after seven years, neither should the culpability of the offender.
A bill has been introduced in the Legislature this year to remove the statute of limitations on reporting child sex abuse. It should be approved and signed into law.