Law limits sexual-abuse victims to 2 years to sue state

Ohio law gives victims of childhood sexual abuse until age 30 to file lawsuits over the trauma they couldn’t acknowledge until they become adults.

Amid furor over sexual abuse by some Catholic priests, lawmakers in 2006 enacted a law instituting a 12-year statute of limitations for the filing of lawsuits from the time most victims turn 18 years of age.

The law permits almost anyone to be sued for damages within 12 years — parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, juvenile-detention-center employees and others.

But, those who claim they were sexually preyed upon by state employees at state institutions don’t have nearly as long to turn to court.

Damage claims against the state must be filed within two years of an injury or loss under a separate law.

A Cleveland woman who alleges she was raped by two guards in 2000 at age 14 in the soon-to-close Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware says that is unfair — and illegal.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 30 from the woman’s lawyer, who claims the law improperly holds the state to a lesser standard and shields it from damage claims by childhood sex-abuse victims.

Both the Court of Claims and the Franklin County Court of Appeals dismissed the case first filed in 2012, saying it was not filed within the required two years.

“It violates equal protection under the law,” said Jill Flagg, an Akron lawyer representing the woman. “There shouldn’t be a shorter standard to file a claim against the state. It violates public policy.”

The Department of Youth Services declined to comment on the court case. But, spokeswoman Kim Parsell said the woman who alleges she was victimized at Scioto never reported she was sexually abused while in state custody. Flagg said her client, now age 27, did report the assaults.

Scioto, which is closing amid an ever-smaller number of incarcerated youth, and other Ohio juvenile correction facilities have some of the highest sexual-assault rates in the nation, according to federal figures.

“If we win this lawsuit, then all those kids can have justice, the healing power from bringing a lawsuit after they process the abuse,” Flagg said.

“They would finally be able to speak about something they couldn’t when they were a kid and say, ‘This is wrong.’  ”