Iowa’s dangerous safe base for abusers

The Gazette [Cedar Rapids IA]

May 1, 2022

By Kathryn Robb and Kylie DeWees

Many states across the country are eliminating their statute of limitations for civil claims. Iowa should, too.

The game of tag is one of the most classic outdoor childhood games. Although it has many versions, traditionally speaking, one player is “it” and must tag other players to eliminate them. Generally, players cannot be tagged out if they are on the “safe base.”

Kids often complain and holler that the safe base is unfair. They have a point.

There is “safe base” in Iowa, but it is a dangerous one. You see, Iowa law creates a safe zone for the absolute worst – sexual predators. A sexual predator may be out and held accountable in one jurisdiction but cross the state line into Iowa and they are safe. Why? Because Iowa has one of the worst civil statutes of limitations (SOLs) for child sexual abuse. If your child or grandchild is sexually assaulted, they have until their 19th birthday to file a civil suit. Yep, you read that right — 19 – still a teenager. And likely still struggling in silence. The protection of Iowa’s archaic civil SOL is good news for child sexual predators and other bad actors. It is especially concerning given that the evidence-based research on trauma is clear – perpetrators silence their young victims with fear, shame, threats, and secrecy, sometimes for a lifetime.

Many Iowa lawmakers will say that we eliminated our criminal SOL last year. True. But it is only half of the truth. The evidence is clear that the criminal system can only go so far in protecting children. Fewer than 20 percent of these cases are ever referred to prosecution, and only half of those result in a conviction. The criminal system is restrained by over-worked prosecutors, limited financial resources, the highest burden of proof and limited discovery. These limitations keep children in harm’s way while predators roam the streets without worry of ever being tagged out of play.

Some will continue their “sky is falling” alarmist arguments about due process, faded memories and courts flooding. First, due process is not an absolute right, the goal of exposing hidden child sexual predators trumps those rights. Moreover, we have safety nets that prevent weak claims – the rules of civil procedure and rules of evidence. False claims are exceedingly rare, especially for sexual abuse claims. No one yells from the rooftops – “I was sexually assaulted as a child!”

Given the epidemic of child sexual abuse and limits of criminal laws, many states across the country are eliminating their SOLs for civil claims. Many others are also passing revival legislation, allowing victims once barred by these arbitrary laws to bring a claim, thereby exposing hidden sexual predators and making kids safer. It is a national movement of both red and blue states. Seventeen jurisdictions have eliminated their civil SOLs for child sexual abuse and 27 jurisdictions have passed revival legislation. Revival legislation serves three compelling public policy purposes: 1) educating the public, 2) exposing hidden child predators, and 3) shifting the cost of abuse away from the victims and taxpayers to the ones that caused the harm.

As survivors of child sexual abuse, we both know the enormous emotional, psychological, and financial burden of this societal problem. We know firsthand how perpetrators groom, manipulate, and silence their young victims. And we know the limits of the criminal justice system and how the doors to justice feel when slammed closed.

Senate leadership can change this insanity – this year – by passing Senate File 32 in a leadership bill. They are still in session, they have the time, and they certainly have power to change the rules that benefit sexual predators.

Or, they can continue to grant predators the protection of Iowa’s safe base.