Legislation Will Remove Civil Statute of Limitations
for Childhood Sexual Assault Cases
Madison— Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) , Representative Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay), Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison), and Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) today announced that they will introduce legislation aimed at protecting victims of sexual abuse by removing the civil statute of limitations in sex assault and rape cases involving children. The legislation, dubbed “The Child Victims Act” is modeled after successful laws in several states that now hold offenders accountable for sexually assaulting children regardless of when those crimes were perpetrated.
Sen. Lassa said the recent news reports of child sexual abuse demonstrate that more needs to be done to identify predators and stop them before they sexually assault other children.
“The headlines we’ve been seeing out of Milwaukee are another tragic reminder that sexual predators, if given the opportunity, will continue to seek out new victims,” Sen. Lassa said. “Through research, we know that these child molesters will have over 80 to 100 victims during a lifetime and will continue to victimize children well into their 60s and beyond. The Child Victims Act gives us a tool to help reveal more of these criminals and keep offenders from preying on other innocent children.”
Under current state law, civil actions in childhood sexual abuse cases must be brought forward by victims before they reach the age of 35. The Child Victims Act will remove this arbitrary limitation that has shut the courthouse doors to many survivors of childhood sex abuse who haven’t been able to deal with the attack until much later in their lives.
Seventy percent of reported sexual assaults in Wisconsin are perpetrated against juveniles; one in five American children fall victim to sexual abuse or exploitation by the age of 18. According to several leading mental health experts, most children who have been sexually assaulted or raped are so traumatized they are not able to speak about their attack until well into adulthood, if ever. With ninety percent of sexual abuse cases going unreported nationally, the perpetrators of these horrific crimes know that they can continue to prey on a new generation of victims without fear of prosecution.
“These acts not only damage the moral fabric of our community, but they also hurt our society economically as victims develop serious mental health issues, utilize costly services, and experience decreased productivity throughout their lifetime,” said Rep. Pasch. “Victims of child sexual assault often are not able to seek justice from their perpetrators for decades, if ever. In turn, this bill would allow victims to swiftly pursue justice and shift the burden of these shameful acts back to those who chose to victimize our most vulnerable.”
“The Child Victims Act opens the courthouse doors to victims of sexual assault,” Rep. Taylor said. “This bill will result in long awaited justice for victims of abuse, and to apprehending perpetrators of sexual violence against children. ”
“It is time for the Child Victim’s Act to become law,” Sen. Taylor said. “For too long, perpetrators and abusers have hidden behind the statute of limitations. I am proud to partner again with victims and advocates to tear down this shroud of secrecy and bring about justice in these cases.”
The legislators said they introduced the legislation because ensuring survivors their day in court no matter how long it takes for them to confront their abuser is an important step to not only ease the victim’s suffering, but to also help prevent sex crimes against children in the future.
“For victims of child sexual assault, the civil justice system may represent the sole opportunity to hold their perpetrator accountable,” said Pennie Meyers, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “The current statute of limitations allowing a victim to file suit is arbitrary and does not fit the gravity of these assaults. Perpetrators should not be able walk away paying nothing while their victims incur the costs associated with childhood sexual abuse. Victims should have the opportunity to place these costs where they belong – in the pockets of those who sexually abused them.”
“As social workers we understand that one of the most healing acts for a victim of sexual assault is to confront her/his abuser in court. This bill will potentially allow hundreds of victims to do so,” said Marc Herstand, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. “Based upon the experience of California and Delaware it is likely that this bill, if passed could expose 200 or more perpetrators of sexual assault who have never before been brought to justice”
The Child Victims Act is supported by the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children (NAPSAC), a group of survivors and advocates who have joined forces to bring comprehensive changes to sex offender laws around the country. Several leading victims’ rights groups and sexual assault prevention experts have also endorsed the bill, such as: The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the National Association of Social Workers, Stop Child Predators, and the Children’s Hospital and Health System and its affiliated agencies and programs (the Children's Service Society Wisconsin, Prevent Child Abuse Wisconsin, the Child Abuse Prevention Fund and the Child Protection Center, the Child Advocacy Center of North Central Wisconsin).