Abolish Time Limits on Childhood Sex Abuse Cases
San Diego Union-Tribune
April 22, 2016
April is Sex Abuse Awareness Month. In light of this fact, it’s time we re-examine our state laws — particularly those that pertain to sexual abuse. More specifically, we need to take a hard look at the laws that can limit or bar a sex abuse victim’s ability to bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator and/or the institutions that failed to protect him/her. These laws are referred to as statutes of limitations. Though in place for a reason, statutes of limitations on childhood sex abuse cases frequently act to protect predators and harm victims.
Children who have been sexually abused face a lifetime of psychological issues. The trauma inflicted on them in their youth reverberates into adulthood. Often it takes years for victims of childhood sex abuse to come to terms with what happened to them. Their struggle is real: a childhood sex abuse victim is more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to help him/her deal with their emotional pain and low self-esteem. They may have difficulty forming meaningful relationships with coworkers and may find themselves in and out of romantic relationships due to trust issues.
In addition to the human cost of childhood sex abuse, there is a real cost to society. A 1996 Department of Justice study of child molestation victims determined that childhood sex abuse costs society an average of $23 billion annually.
There is one clear way that we can lessen the toll that childhood sex abuse takes on our society: increase and/or eliminate statutes of limitations on childhood sex abuse cases.
A statute of limitations puts a time limit on the civil or criminal prosecution of a pedophile. In California, a victim of child sex abuse generally has until the age of 26 to file a lawsuit. These time limits serve to protect pedophiles and the institutions to which they belong from legal or societal backlash. A good example of this is the Roman Catholic Church. Several of its prominent leaders have been made aware of sex abuse scandals taking place within the church, yet these leaders have done nothing — or have taken steps to cover up the crime, as seen in the critically acclaimed 2015 film “Spotlight.”
This must end.
Lawmakers in several states have committed themselves to bringing this disgraceful trend to a stop. California refuses to eliminate or even extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims. Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed two legislative bills that would have extended the statute of limitations for victims, amid heavy lobbying from the Catholic Church and other institutions that have negligently enabled predators to sexually abuse young children.
In the end, justice is what matters most. Victims should not be silenced. Pedophiles, rapists, and molesters should not walk free simply because the statute of limitations in their state protects them. All childhood sex abuse statutes of limitations in every state should be promptly lengthened and/or eliminated.
Estey of the law firm Estey Bomberger represents childhood molestation victims and has twice been named “Trial Attorney of the Year” by the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego.