The damaging effects of some crimes linger for decades. Some damage lives permanently.
Among the inexplicable quirks of the law is the presumption that ruining a life with childhood sexual abuse is a crime with an expiration date on it.
Statutes of limitations are designed to trade justice for the orderly and convenient operation of the legal system. The evidence of the last two decades regarding child sex abuse proves how unsatisfactory that view is.
The damage of this heinous crime normally lingers forever. But the crime is treated as if it’s an embezzlement that the perpetrator managed to beat by hiding from evidence and counting on the victim’s silence for protection.
But legislation pending in the General Assembly would end that pretense. Senate Bill 1399, which has passed the Senate and is before the House, removes deadlines for victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek civil redress in court.
The current 20-year limit is artificial and barely gets most victims to a point in life when they can overcome, or at least cope effectively, with the traumatic experience, which can be repressed in their memory.
Legal scholars hail ending statutes of limitation as a dynamic tool to fight sexual predators, who are often family members who spend years tormenting victims and keeping the crime hidden in shadows. Historically, 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims never report the crime, and a large percentage of lawsuits perish under time restraints before they can reach court.
Preying on children has become an epidemic that needs direct legal remedy. Eight states have passed laws similar to SB 1399 and more are in the pipeline.
Luckily, most state legislatures are choosing to act in the best interest of the children. Marci Hamilton, chairman in public policy at Yeshiva University’s law school in New York City, is the predominant authority on the topic and describes SB 1399 as a “sunshine law for children.”
We agree. The bill makes sense and provides justice.