Alarmingly, one-quarter of all girls and one-sixth of all boys in the U.S. suffer from sexual abuse. Many victims of child sexual abuse understandably fail to disclose the abuse in its immediate aftermath. They may suffer from serious psychological conditions as a result of the trauma, such as PTSD or depression. These may take years or decades to overcome, if they are ever overcome at all. About one-third of child sex abuse victims never disclose the abuse, and another one-third do not disclose it until they become adults. The median age for victims to disclose is 48, and the average age is 52.
This issue can create serious problems when victims try to bring personal injury claims against their abusers or the employers of their abusers. These cases are governed by statutes of limitations, which restrict the time in which a victim can bring a claim. This is a strict procedural deadline with very few exceptions. Failing to meet the deadline usually will result in a case being dismissed, regardless of whether it has merit.
Reforms to the Statutes of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse
Historically, the inadvertent effect of the statutes of limitations was to allow most perpetrators of child sexual abuse to escape any liability for their actions. However, media attention to reports of abuse in the Boston Archdiocese in 2002 triggered a nationwide movement to adjust statutes of limitations to protect victims. Since then, 38 states and the District of Columbia have amended their child sexual abuse statutes of limitations. These amendments so far have been prospective rather than retroactive, covering children who are currently being abused or will be abused in the future, as well as victims for whom the statute of limitations has not yet run out. As of 2018, no state has introduced reforms to a statute of limitations that would revitalize the claims of victims for whom it has expired.
Examples of Reforms to Statutes of Limitations
In California, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on any type of child sexual abuse runs until the victim reaches age 26, eight years after the age of majority. A discovery rule also gives victims three years to file a claim after discovering an injury caused by the abuse.
In New York, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on felony child sexual abuse runs until the victim reaches age 23, five years after the age of majority. It runs until the victim reaches age 21 for cases of injury or negligence, and until the victim reaches age 19 for cases of vicarious assault or liability. New York does not use a discovery rule.
In Illinois, there is no statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on child sexual abuse.
In Texas, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on child sexual abuse is 15 years from the date of the abuse, regardless of the child’s age at the time.
In Florida, there is no statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on felony child sexual abuse. A victim must bring a civil claim based on misdemeanor child sexual abuse by age 25, seven years after the age of majority. The difference between felony and misdemeanor sexual abuse is whether the victim was younger than 16 (felony) or was 16 or 17 (misdemeanor).
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim based on child sexual abuse runs until the victim reaches age 30, 12 years after the age of majority.