It’s time the federal and state governments stood up to protect sexual assault victims instead of their abusers.
Finally, that seems to be happening for child sex abuse victims in New York, with legislation in both Congress and the state Legislature pending to remove statutes of limitations on sex crimes against children.
The federal legislation, sponsored by New York U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, would extend the statute of limitations in federal civil cases for victims of sex abuse, sex trafficking and child-porn crimes.
Right now, victims are prohibited from filing civil lawsuits in federal court after their 21st birthdays.
Schumer, under the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2016 (S2613), is calling to extend that to age 28.
In the state Legislature, a number of bills are pending this session to extend or eliminate the statute of limitations in civil and criminal child sex cases.
The most promising and most expansive is a bill (A3177/S0850) sponsored by state Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx and Buffalo Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes.
It would eliminate the statute of limitations for the filing of civil and criminal action that now stops when someone abused before the age of 18 turns 23.
In many cases of child abuse, particularly cases of child pornography, the victims either don’t remember or don't realize they’ve been abused until years after the crime has occurred.
It often takes time for these memories to come to the surface and for the victims to seek legal remedies.
So cutting off their ability to seek criminal action or compensation from their abusers at an early age does not serve justice. It only serves the abuser, who might be lucky enough to escape their crimes unscathed by waiting for the short statute of limitations to run out.
How do the current limitations help victims recover damages or obtain justice? How do they keep sexual predators from committing new crimes against new victims?
Realize that there is a legitimate reason for having statutes of limitations in certain crimes. It’s not a desire to set criminals free. Over time, evidence erodes or can’t be obtained, memories fade, witnesses either disappear or die, and people who know what went on become more reluctant to dredge up the past. And in some cases, a mere accusation alone, unproven, can soil the reputation of someone before the courts have a chance to determine their guilt or innocence.
But what would society rather do here? Help a sex abuse victim? Or protect an abuser on the off-chance someone falsely accuses an individual or an institution of committing or condoning abuse?
Both Congress and the state Legislature have an opportunity to do more to ensure that rapists and child abusers don’t get away with their crimes because of some arbitrary statute of limitations established long ago.
This problem is too big, and the consequences too severe, to allow it to go on any longer without swift action from our representatives in Washington and Albany.