Barriers to sexual abuse lawsuits should come down

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News of sexual abuse allegations has become so commonplace nationally that it no longer seems new, but to the victims of long-ago assaults on their bodies and their minds, emerging horror stories and recent revelations often spur an intense desire for justice.

That may not be as easy as it seems, however, since statutes of limitations often hinder the victims from even getting into court, much less prevailing before judge and jury. As with the scandal that recently broke concerning Roman Catholic priests and the church hierarchy in Pennsylvania, many victims are prevented by archaic laws from seeking justice either criminally or through the civil court process.

In Connecticut, childhood victims of sexual abuse seeking to file a civil must file a lawsuit prior to reaching the age of 48. But a child who is molested when they are of elementary school age – 8 years old for example – could easily run out of time before they have reached a point in their lives where they are no longer reluctant to speak openly about their attackers.

This point is made clearly in the ongoing Pennsylvania Catholic Church scandal as many of the priests named in a just-released grand jury report have died or been removed from the church, but will not face criminal or civil complaints lodged by their victims. It should be stressed that the church is not the only entity that is undergoing scrutiny regarding sexual abuse.

Charges, resignations, prosecutions and arrests have been reported in the entertainment industry, politics, sports, counseling, virtually anywhere that adults have power over children or even other adults who depend on their attackers for their livelihood.

Fortunately, all the media attention given the high profile cases seems to have helped victims realize they are not alone.  Victims can overcome shame, embarrassment and feelings of powerlessness.  They can come forward and they have.  The #METOO movement has helped. Many still need more time to come to grips with their past.

In New York State, where efforts to change the statute of limitations have passed the lower house of the state legislature, those same measures have been blocked in the state Senate after intense lobbying by the church and the Boy Scouts of America.

The fact is, victims of childhood sexual assault and abuse take years, even decades to recover, if a full recovery is ever truly possible.

A well-researched and evidence-supported lawsuit can go a long way toward achieving justice and healing these victims. A greater window of opportunity to seek justice should be available.

There is no clear reason why victims of childhood sexual abuse should be prevented from seeking justice, simply because they have reached a certain age. And the perpetrators of these crimes should not be able to sit back smugly knowing that they have caused decades of torment, yet are immune from justice simply because time has passed.

The current statute of limitations should be expanded to allow those victims that have previously been prevented from seeking justice because of their age to be allowed to bring an action providing them with the widest possible opportunities to seek and find justice.

Atty Jason E. Tremont is with the Bridgeport-based law firm Tremont Sheldon Robinson Mahoney P.C.  

 

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