At age five, 1954, "the Bishop" (Chicago's Cardinal Stritch) stood over me and said, I had to "stop babbling" about what the priest did to me. It took me 40 years to talk about it again. Today, I babble.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Support SB 238: Civil Actions - Child Sexual Abuse - Statute of Limitations

By: Child Victims Voice of Maryland

FACT SHEET ABOUT MARYLAND’S BILL: Child Sex Abuse – Statute of Limitations and Limitation of Damages:

Most Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are faced with lifelong effects from the criminal acts committed against them. Statistically just under 50 percent of those who were sexually victimized were abused in the home, which makes it even more difficult to come to a place where one is ready to file a civil suit against their offenders.

The majority of Survivors of child sexual abuse are not able to connect how the criminals act(s) committed against them affected their lives until they are in their forties or fifties. Especially since their offenders are often family members. Those who were abused outside the home also are usually doing what they can to suppress their memories and do whatever it takes to attempt to have a normal life. When thinking of the stages in one’s life it makes sense since the forties and fifties is a time of self-reflection. It is a time in which the outside demands of a survivor’s life have lessened.

Child Victims Voice of Maryland believes that we must:
(1) Abolish the statute of limitations within which a victim/survivor of child sexual abuse may bring a civil claim; and
(2) Create a window of time within which victims/survivors may bring a civil claim where the statute of limitations has already expired. We believe the window should be at least a two year period of time.

One of the major reasons why we must raise the limit to 50 years of age, with an open one year window is because it takes most survivors many years to be in a place where they are ready and willing to enter into counseling and begin to deal with the horror of their childhood. It’s also known in the clinical world that there are certain times that a survivor is more likely to go for help. These times include:

· Right after the abuse happened if they tell their parents and or have other support,

· When the survivor is old enough and capable of leaving home,

· Around the time the survivor is thinking about marriage or get married,

· When the survivor or their spouse is pregnant or right after their child is born,

· When the survivors own children reach the age they were when they themselves were abused,

· But most common is when they are in their forties or fifties. This is an age that most adults can focus on themselves, they start reflecting on their lives and have the time to deal with things they never resolved.


* Awareness of Causation of Injuries:
Under the current law, victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse must bring a civil case against their perpetrator within seven years of turning 18. Maryland must abolish its statute of limitations [SOL] because many victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse are not emotionally or psychologically in a position to deal with their victimization of the incidents until they are in their forties, fifties or beyond. Most are unable to make the connection between the sexual criminal acts committed against them as children and how it affected the rest of their lives.

* Maryland does not apply its “discovery” rule to victims of childhood sexual abuse:
Unfortunately, while Maryland applies the “discovery” rule [which tolls the running of the statute of limitations until the victim/survivor discovers his/her injury] in other civil cases, the courts have refused to apply this rule to claims of childhood sexual abuse.

* Many other states do apply the “discovery” rule, or something similar to it to victims of childhood sexual abuse:
The following 20 states recognize the delayed discovery/realization rule in some form for victims of childhood sexual abuse: Alaska; Colorado; Florida; Idaho; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Missouri; Nevada; Oklahoma; Oregon; Rhode Island, South Carolina; South Dakota; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; Wyoming.

* Several states have gone further than recognizing the “discovery” rule and simply have NO SOL or have longer SOLs than Maryland:
There is No SOL in Alaska, Delaware and Maine for victims bringing civil actions of childhood sexual abuse, and Wisconsin is currently considering eliminating its SOL

The following states have an SOL of greater than seven years after the age of majority for these victims/survivors: Connecticut [30 years], Ohio [12 years]; Pennsylvania [12 years]; [Wisconsin 14 years].

* A longer SOL serves to deter future sexual predators.
In addition to helping victims/survivors who have already been abused, a longer statute of limitations will deter sexual predators who contemplate using their power to commit criminal sexual acts on children. There is a much greater likelihood that claims will be brought if victims/survivors have the time to remember and fully understand the injuries they have suffered. Knowing that Maryland has these protections may deter sexual predators from using their power over children to criminally sexually manipulate them.

Because there are many victim/survivors for whom the SOL has already expired, extending the statute of limitations is not enough. For these victims, the state of Maryland needs to give them an opportunity, after meeting stringent requirements, to have their day in court by creating at least one hundred years after the age of majority time frame within they may bring their claim.

* In order to qualify to bring a claim under the window of opportunity section of HB 848, victims have to meet the vigorous requirements of providing a certificate of merit which must include:

(a) A statement by an attorney finding that he has consulted with a licensed mental health provider who has found that there is a reasonable and meritorious cause for filing the action; and
(b) A statement by a licensed mental health provider who is not treating the victim/survivor and concludes that there is reasonable basis to believe that the victim/survivor has been subjected to sexual abuse as a minor.

* Other states have already successfully implemented similar laws creating a window of opportunity for victim/survivors of childhood sexual abuse to bring a civil action against his/her predator where the SOL has expired.

Delaware: On July 10, 2007, Delaware repealed its SOL for victims of childhood sexual abuse and created a two year window within which victims can bring civil cases otherwise time-barred. The victims are not required to meet any greater standards than other civil plaintiffs in order to bring their case.

California: During the 1997-1998 legislative session, California passed a bill allowing a one-year window of time within which victims could file claims which had previously been time-barred. The law is very similar to HB ___in that is also requires a certificate of merit to be filed by the victim.

* Wisconsin is currently considering a three-year window of opportunity for victims to bring civil claims.

* Finally, it is important to note there needs to be no caps on the amount of damages that a victim/survivor may be awarded for claims brought during this window of opportunity.

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