Statute of limitations for child sexual abuse has been changing in many U.S. states. For exampe, the Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 is a law that repealed the statute of limitations on filing civil lawsuits for child sex abuse.
This means that those who were abused decades ago can pursue justice regardless of how many years have passed. Previously, people who were abused as children were unable to file a lawsuit after the age of 38.
What is a “statute of limitaitons”?
A statute of limitations, known in civil law systems as a prescriptive period, is:
“A law passed by a legislative body to set the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated.”
Different crimes have different statutes of limitations in different states. When a crime victim waits until the statute of limitations is over, it is means it is too late to file charges against that person for the crime that s/he committed. Therefore, justice is lost.
Why is the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse important?
Different people respond to trauma in different ways. Sometimes, women who are abused as children block these traumatic memories because they are overwhelming to them. When these memories are blocked, they are often hidden, however, their impact can still be felt.
Other times, child do not know or understand the law, do not have active parents and other caring adults who can advocate for them, and are too shell-shocked to file charges against the abuser.
Other times, children experience an extreme betrayal of trust and have to spend time with the abuser on a regular bases and/or are dependent on the abuser for care or services, such as parents, teachers, and coaches who abuse children. They are afraid to call the police or report the abusers.
With some children, they simply think that the abuse is a normal way to live because they do not know and have not personally experienced anything different.
It is only when children become more self-aware adults who often begin an individual healing journey of self-care that includes therapy and support can they many of them begin to think about prosecuting those who hurt them when they were little.
By extended and even removing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, our society is beginning to recognize the complex needs that victims often have in terms of time to seek help, incuding but not limited to prosecution and justice.
What if I am a victim?
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. If you are a victim, taking care of yourself is the priority. No one’s healing journey is the same and it takes as long as it takes, sometimes, a lifetime. The services you need to help you are often called “victim sevices,” even though we know that you are really a survivor.
When you are ready to hold those who abused you responsible as a child, you can take the next step and contact your local women’s law center, such as the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, or your local county’s prosecutor’s office. Courts and local service agencies for women can often help you file charges and importantly, appoint a Victims Advocate who can explain the process to you in detail and accompany you to court if you have to appear in person.
In addition, you may be entitled to civil damages, which means that the abuser must pay money to you for what they did to hurt you. The monies that you can potentially receive from civil damages are important for managing your present and future safety, mental health, and emotional wellbeing.
Photo credit: Shutterstock