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Politics and Government

Advocates pressure state lawmakers to change statutes of limitations for child sex abuse

Karen Dewitt
WRVO News (file photo)

Several bills in the New York state legislature would extend or eliminate the criminal and/or civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse.

Kathryn Robb with Massachusetts Citizens for Children, is a survivor of child sex abuse and an advocate for removing the criminal and civil statute of limitations.

“When a child is raped or molested repeatedly, it is not something that they shout from the rooftops," Robb said. "In fact, many victims don’t report until they are in their 40s, 50s, 60s and later. Victims are prevented from having any justice. When they have no justice and the courtroom doors are slammed, that means that the perpetrators are able to continue to abuse again and again and again.”

The removal of the statute of limitations would only apply to child victims who are sexually abused after the bill becomes law. That is why some bills contain a one-year window for anyone who has been sexually abused as a child in the past to file a lawsuit.

Robb supports this and has met with Republican state Senator John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, who is not in favor of the one-year window.

“You can’t have someone indefinitely being able to bring suit,” DeFrancisco said.

DeFrancisco said in 2006, the criminal and civil statutes of limitations were expanded by five years. That means under current law, victims of child sex abuse have until they are 23 to bring a criminal or civil claim. Also since 2006, the highest levels of sexual related crimes, such as rape, have no criminal statute of limitations.

The issue, DeFrancisco said, is the people that want to bring lawsuits who were abused prior to 2006.
He said the longer the time period from when an incident occurs to when a lawsuit takes place, the harder it is to hold a fair trial.

“People have died, memories have faded and it gets down to eventually a he-said, she-said situation,” DeFrancisco said. "There's a statute of limitations to be able to prosecute people and to be able to bring civil lawsuits for money. There's a reason for it. I don't think you can change the law retroactively and apply it to everybody that wants to bring a lawsuit."

Robb and her fellow activists say the will continue to pressure lawmakers in Albany until the law is changed.

“So often, rape is a he-said, she-said sort of argument, some of that exists anyway," Robb said. "Plaintiffs still have the burden to prove their claim.”