After years of trying to strike a compromise, the House voted unanimously on Wednesday to extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual assault to bring civil claims against their abusers.
The bill (H 4126) would allow victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits up until the time they turn 53 years old, an extra 35 years on top of what is currently allowed.
Rep. John Lawn, a Watertown Democrat who worked with victims, advocates and groups like the Catholic Church to reach the compromise, said the bill struck a balance between allowing victims the time to come to terms with their abuse while also respecting the rights of institutions that might become involved in lawsuits stemming from decades-old incidents.
Lawn got involved with the issue after a constituent came to him seeking assistance after she was raped, drugged and impregnated as a young teenager by her uncle, Lawn said the woman was in her 40s before she was fully ready to confront her abuser, but it was too late to seek justice. The new statute of limitations would be applied retroactively to cases against the alleged perpetrator of the abuse, but not for institutions who may have “negligently supervised” the abuser. The bill would also extend from three years to seven years the limit for a civil lawsuit to be brought against either class of defendant from the time the victim “discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition was caused” by the sexual abuse. Both the House and Senate advanced bills late in 2012 to a conference committee, but lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise that year. “We believe this is as close to perfect as you could possibly get in striking a balance,” said Rep. Chris Markey, the ranking House Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
The bill now moves to the Senate