US: Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act of 2022
On 16 September 2022, President Biden signed into law the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act. This bipartisan legislation eliminates the federal statute of limitations – the deadline before which lawsuits must be filed – for civil actions brought by people who were sexually abused as minors, allowing victims of child sex abuse to seek civil damages in federal court no matter how long ago their abuse took place.
Previously, victims and survivors could only file federal claims before their 28th birthday, or within 10 years of discovering they had been abused. This marks an important recognition that victims of child sexual abuse often delay reporting what happened to them out of fear or shame, and that the time taken to process trauma and abuse should be reflected in the laws. According to one study of over 1,000 survivors, the average victim of child sex abuse is 52 years of age by the time they report what happened to them.
In a statement to the House of Representatives, Democrat Senator Dick Durbin said: “The science of trauma is clear: it often takes years for victims to come forward. Our bipartisan bill honors the basic notions of justice for survivors… 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.” Republican Congresswoman Maria Salazar added: “By eliminating the statute of limitations, my colleagues and I are proud to stand with victims and ensure that victims of child sex abuse, exploitations, and trafficking do not have an arbitrary expiration on justice.”
Unfortunately, the removal of the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse is not retroactive. In other words, claims that were expired under the previous law will not be revived. Still, this new law is a welcome step forwards that will ensure abusers, and the institutions protecting them, are forced to pay for the harm and suffering they have caused. Above all, it will empower hundreds of thousands of survivors by giving them a powerful option in holding their abusers to account in a court of law.