Should there be any statute of limitations on sexual abuse?

Last week, we talked about the difficulties of pursuing a case as a victim of sexual abuse because of the two year statute of limitations. While, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim of the sexual abuse both realizes that he/she is a victim of sexual abuse AND relates the sexual abuse to the physical, psychological, mental and emotional harm that they have suffered, one question still remains: Should there be a statute of limitations for sexual abuse at all?

New York State is considering eliminating the statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse cases. Presently in New York, a victim of child sexual abuse MUST bring any civil lawsuit regarding same prior turning twenty three (23). The New York legislature is looking to change that and Governor Cuomo of New York is supporting that change.

Recently, the NY Daily News looked at the statutes of limitation for sexual abuse in New Jersey. See New Jersey’s victim-friendly statute of limitations law helps child sex abuse victim sue the teacher that scarred his life, decades later. The NY Daily News considered the statute of limitations in New Jersey as victim friendly. But does it go far enough?

Similar to the bills being pushed forward in New York, New Jersey has considered its own bills to end the statute of limitation for childhood sexual abuse cases such  as New  Jersey State Bill 868.

Bill 868 proposes sweeping reform as it relates to victims of sexual abuse and their access to the court system. This new bill, if passed in the New Jersey Legislature, will eliminate the statute of limitations in civil actions for sexual abuse, expand the categories of entities and individuals that may be held responsible for the sexual abuse and clarify civil actions against public entities.

If enacted, the bill would be a sweeping victory for victims of sexual abuse. These victims would then be able to pursue legal remedies without the harsh time constraints. Moreover, the elimination of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse would lift the burden on victims to demonstrate, not only that they are suffering as a result of the abuse, but also that they were unaware that their suffering was related to the sexual abuse until recently.

Presently, victims face the burden of demonstrating the repressed memories, mental trauma or delayed recognition of the abuse and its effect to be able to pursue their legal rights beyond the two years. The present system essentially asks victims, who are at their most vulnerable and may be beginning to identify their abuse, to move very quickly in filing in any action against their abuser and to pursue claims before they are ready to do so.

Thus while New Jersey is certainly more victim friendly than our neighbor, the state still does not do enough to protect victims of child sexual abuse and to encourage them to bring their cases to court only when they are mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared.


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