The trauma of being sexually abused as a child can last a lifetime. It may take years for survivors to work through it all and be able to speak about their experiences. Unfortunately, the time allowed to file civil claims against abusers often expires before they are ready to come forward. Until now.
On September 17, President Biden signed the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act. This act eliminates the federal statute of limitations for those who were sexually abused as children to file civil claims. Sexual abuse crimes against children include sexual exploitation, sex trafficking and forced labor. Previously, survivors could only file federal civil lawsuits until they reached 28 years old or within ten years after the injury or abuse was discovered. There is no federal statute of limitations for criminal claims regarding child sexual abuse.
Bill S.3103, introduced in the Senate in October 2021 and passed unanimously in March, passed in the House of Representatives in September of this year. It was authored by
Sens. Marsha Backburn (R-TN) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“The science of trauma is clear: it often takes years for victims to come forward,” said Sen. Durbin in a statement after the bill passed the House. “Our bipartisan bill honors the basic notions of justice for survivors, and I was proud to work with Sen. Blackburn and our colleagues in the House to lead it across the finish line. By signing this legislation into law, we can finally help survivors have their day in court and a moment of healing – when they are ready.”
“The statute of limitations for sexual abuse offenses should never prohibit young survivors from getting the justice they deserve,” added Sen. Blackburn. “The bipartisan effort to eliminate the civil child sexual abuse statute of limitations is a critical step to guarantee survivors their day in court.”
Federal vs. State Sex Abuse Cases
This act eliminates the federal statute of limitations for civil cases involving child sexual abuse. Federal courts are governed by the Constitution and Title 18 of the US Code – the main criminal code of the federal government and have more power than state or local courts.
Sex crimes can fall into a state, federal or both courts. When sex crimes are heard before a state court, the charges are often less complicated than those in a federal court. These crimes typically stay within the state courts.
Federal courts can decide which cases are heard in their courtrooms. They usually choose to hear any case wherein a child or minor youth is involved. Federal sex crimes are often prosecuted in conjunction with other federal charges, depending on the nature of the crime. These sex crimes include the exploitation, buying or selling of children; child pornography; online solicitation of children across state lines; aggravated rape and sexual abuse; and transportation of minors between states or to other countries with the intent to engage them in sexual activity. Federal courts often take on more serious crimes that are broader in scope than those on the state level.
Thanks to the bipartisan efforts of the Senate and the House, those who were the victims of federal sex crimes as children finally have the opportunity to seek justice whenever they’re ready.