Awareness of child sexual abuse has grown in recent years. The trauma that stems from this heinous crime can make it harder for those who have experienced it to testify, reducing the likelihood of justice compared to that of many other illegal activities. Recognizing these challenges, a number of states have begun to alter their statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases, making it easier to combat these offenses.
In January 2019, New York became the first state to pass legislation that could increase accountability for perpetrators when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act in January 2019. The bill extended the statute of limitations in New York, allowing survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file criminal claims up to the age of 28 and civil ones up to the age of 55. It also included a one-year period that enabled survivors who could not come forward under the previous statute of limitations to testify retroactively. That moratorium was later extended for an additional year up to August 14, 2021.
Not long after, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed S477/A3648 on May 13, 2019., lengthening the civil statute of limitations for adult sexual assault cases from a meager two years to seven years. The law also increased the maximum age at which victims of childhood sex abuse could file claims to 55. Furthermore, S477/A3648 would allow survivors to testify up to seven years after “discovering” their experiences constituted abuse and that this abuse caused them financial harm. Like the Child Victims Act, this bill gave survivors who could not previously testify a two year window spanning December 1, 2019 to November 30, 2021.
Months later, California passed its own legislation when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 218 that October, extending the statute of limitations to forty years, or within five years of discovering the abuse. The bill also offered a three-year window for those who could not come forward before.
Since then, most other states are taking a cue from these laws and are introducing or have passed legislation with similar intentions, beginning with Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and Maine.
In 2021, a flood of other states joined the bandwagon with Arkansas, Louisiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona passing comparable bills. However, the Arizona and Tennessee legislation does not offer a window period giving survivors new opportunities to come forward.
As of June 2021, fifteen states have not conducted any activity to reform their statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, while twenty-three others currently have pending legislation on the matter. Whether they pass is yet to be determined.