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State Legislators Seek To Address The Issue Of Non-Reporting Of Child Sexual Abuse

A bill has been introduced in the Colorado Senate, Senate Bill 19-049, which would extend the statute of limitations, or time limit, Colorado prosecutors have to prosecute mandatory reporters for their failure to report child abuse that comes to their attention. Under Colorado law, teachers, counselors, administrators, and others who work with children are required to report child abuse.

In support of the legislation, legislators and experts said that too often, they find mandatory reporters delay reporting for various reasons, like taking the time to do their own investigations; not believing the child; or trying to find evidence to support a child's report of abuse. Several senators said the current 18-month time limit places children at greater risk of abuse.

Prosecutors who testified in support of the bill cited several examples in which child abuse had not been reported in a timely way, and prosecutors either could not prosecute or had to dismiss cases already filed because of the short, current 18-month time limit had expired. Saja Hindi "Colorado bill would extend statute of limitations on failure to report child abuse to three years" denverpost.com (Feb. 06, 2019). 

Commentary and Checklist

Besides Colorado, many other state legislatures are considering new laws to help protect children.

1. The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee will hear S-477 in March. This bill would extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to file civil suits to age 55 or seven years after discovery, whichever is later. It would also allow victims to hold both the individual perpetrator and any institution that is at fault liable. https://www.insidernj.com/press-release/vitale-quijano-issue-statement-sexual-assault-bill-expand-statute-limitations/ 

2. North Carolina representatives filed HB 37 in February 2019. The bill would extend the statute of limitations to give victims of child sexual abuse until the age of 45 to file a civil lawsuit. Currently they only have up to three years after turning 18. http://www.wect.com/2019/02/09/nc-bill-filed-would-give-child-sexual-abuse-victims-until-age-take-civil-action/

3. Introduced in Jan. 2019, H 5171 would extend the civil statute of limitations in Rhode Island for child sexual abuse from seven years after the victim’s 18th birthday to 35 years after his or her 18th birthday (technically after the alleged act, but time is tolled until the child’s 18th birthday), or seven years after discovery, whichever is later. https://www.wpri.com/news/local-news/providence/bill-proposes-extension-of-statute-of-limitations-for-sexual-abuse/1811165310 and http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText19/HouseText19/H5171.pdf 

4. Montana lawmakers introduced HB 109 in January 2019. It would remove the statute of limitations on both felony and misdemeanor child sexual abuse charges. https://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/bill-would-eliminate-montana-s-statute-of-limitations-on-child/article_f6c71e65-7037-5cb3-ad78-80e728318b55.html 

5. SB 55, which is currently being considered in New Mexico, would abolish the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes. https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/opinion/columnists/2019/01/13/bill-would-bring-justice-recovery-sexual-assault-victims/2560695002/ 

These measures address an issue for safe adults trying to create or preserve a child-safe environment: the reluctance of victims and witnesses to report child sexual abuse.

Here are some reasons why child abuse victims hesitate to immediately report:       

  • They think they will be blamed.
  • They think no one will listen to or believe them.
  • They think they are mistaken that the abuse is wrong or even happened.
  • They think the perpetrator will harm them or their family.
  • They fear being viewed or treated differently by their peers or their family.
  • They fear being questioned.
  • They like how the abuse feels physically.
  • The offender is a relative or other person they love.
  • The offender is a person of power or influence.
  • They do not want the offender to get into trouble.
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