Giving Child Sex Abuse Victims More Time to Sue Abusers

By O. Kay Henderson
Radio Iowa
February 21, 2012

Iowans who were sexually abused as children would have more time to file a lawsuit against their alleged abuser if a bill pending in the Iowa Senate becomes law.

Today, someone who was sexually abused as a child must file a lawsuit against their alleged abuser after they turn 18 and before they turn 19. Bill LaHay of Des Moines says when he was a child, he was abused by a Catholic priest and he's urging legislators to change the law.

"Anything that offers a person a survivor, a victim more time to come to terms with that is a good thing," LaHay says.

Under the bill, victims of child sexual abuse would have nine more years to file a lawsuit against their abuser seeking damages right up until the victim reaches the age of 29. LaHay says few 18-year-olds understand the consequences of the abuse they may have suffered as a child.

"The things that really show the damages don't start happening until you see repetitive patterns in job or professional life, in relationships or marriage issues, or anything like that," LaHay says. "So it takes a while for some of the damages to actually surface in a way that's serious enough for a person to recognize this may be more than normal difficulties they may be experiencing."

Paul Koeniguer of Des Moines says his daughter was sexually abused between the ages of four and 14, and she didn't realize how the abuse had affected her until she was in her mid-20s far beyond the current cut-off for filing a civil lawsuit against her alleged abuser.

"It is such a serious crime. The effects on her have been catastrophic," Koeniguer says. "I mean, she's still struggling with it and she's in her 40s. The seriousness of the crime, I think, bears extending the statute of limitations significantly."

The phrase "statute of limitations" is a reference to the limit or deadline for filing a lawsuit. Under current law someone has a year after they become an adult to file a civil lawsuit against someone who sexually abused them as a child. Many states give child sexual abuse victims longer periods of time to go to court and seek damages from an alleged abuser. Some critics have warned courts would be overwhelmed by such cases, but LaHay says that hasn't happened in other states.

"It isn't a blank check for any kind of casual action. Every person that I know of had to go through extensive affidavits, depositions, evaluations by forensic psychologists," LaHay says. "You run a gauntlet, so the idea that there would be a risk of fraudulent or casual exploitation of this, I think, has never been proven."

The bill would also give those who "become aware" of abuse they suffered when they were under the age of 14 up to a decade to file a lawsuit after that moment of discovery. The bill also gives law enforcement a much longer period of time to build a criminal case against someone suspected of sexually abusing minors.

Three state senators have signed off on the bill and the legislation will be considered by a senate committee later this week.


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