Last week, Pope Francis held an unprecedented meeting regarding the crisis of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic church. He called for “concrete and effective measures” in the effort to deal with the many accusations of misconduct involving sexual abuse, to include that of adults who have come forward to reveal patterns of sexual misconduct towards them, that occurred when they were children.
However, few remedies are available to adult victims of child sexual abuse due to criminal statutes of limitations. By now most of us know that with the exception of homicide, most crimes have a window of time that a perpetrator can be charged. These limitations vary from state to state.
In Wisconsin, current law states that the time a person has to bring an action (the statute of limitations) for an injury resulting from being sexually assaulted or subject to incest as a child, or from being subject to sexual contact by a member of the clergy as a child, is any time before the injured party reaches the age of 35.
Yet, many recent high-profile cases, including that of the Catholic church are proof that time limits on victims coming forward are antiquated and must be fixed.
Last year, during a U.S. Senate race in Alabama, several women accused Roy Moore of pursuing relationships with them when they were teenagers. Moore questioned why it had taken his accusers so long to go public, saying “To think that grown women would wait 40 years to come forward, right before an election, to bring charges is absolutely unbelievable.”
The actor, Anthony Rapp claimed megastar Kevin Spacey of making sexual advances toward him when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was 26 years old. Rapp didn’t come forward until he was 46 years old. While many of Bill Cosby’s accusers waited so long to allege sexual abuse against the actor, that the statutes of limitations had run out on all but one of the 60 accusers. And we can now add R&B singer R. Kelly who was charged last week with aggravated sexual assault against four people, one who was said to have been 14 years old at the time.
The sad reality is that there is a myriad of reasons that victims do not come forward sooner to reveal that they have been sexually assaulted to include shame, denial, fear and more. But for some, it is no surprise.
The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, estimates that 1 in 5 of America’s youth is victims of such crimes.
It is with this understanding, that I have just introduced a bill that would remove the time limits on when a person has to bring an action (the statute of limitations) for an injury resulting from being sexually assaulted or subject to incest as a child, or from being subject to sexual contact by a member of the clergy as a child. We have a responsibility to give victims the opportunity to seek justice whenever they are finally able or capable of coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse.