WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives passed S.3103, the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill first introduced in the Senate by U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The bill now heads to the President’s desk.
“The statute of limitations for sexual abuse offenses should never prohibit young survivors from getting the justice they deserve,” Blackburn said. “The bipartisan effort to eliminate the civil child sexual abuse statute of limitations is a critical step to guarantee survivors their day in court."
“The science of trauma is clear: it often takes years for victims to come forward,” Durbin said. “Our bipartisan bill honors the basic notions of justice for survivors, and I was proud to work with Senator 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.”
On September 15, 2021, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “Dereliction of Duty: Examining the Inspector General’s Report on the FBI’s Handling of the Larry Nassar Investigation.” This hearing was convened in light of an Inspector General report documenting the FBI’s failure to properly investigate allegations that Larry Nassar was assaulting young athletes, which enabled the continued abuse of dozens of additional victims.
According to CHILD USA, the National Think Tank for Child Protection, data suggests that 86 percent of child sexual abuse goes unreported. For victims who do report their abuse, “delayed disclosure,” or the tendency of survivors of child sex abuse to wait for years before disclosing abuse to others, is common. One study of more than 1,000 survivors found that the average age of survivors at the time of disclosure was about 52 years old.
Historically, delayed disclosure has impacted survivors’ path to justice. Survivors often were barred from civil and criminal remedies at the time they disclosed their abuse due to statutes of limitations (SOLs) that did not take into account evidence regarding delayed disclosure. In recent years, however, many states have expanded opportunities for victims to access justice by lengthening SOLs. Since 2002, 48 states and Washington D.C. have amended their child sex abuse laws to expand or eliminate SOLs in varying degrees.
Under current federal law, no statute of limitations bars the prosecution of criminal offenses involving child sex abuse anytime while the child victim is alive or 10 years after the offense, whichever is later. However, statutes of limitations remain an obstacle for survivors under the federal civil remedy statute. While Congress in 2018 lengthened the SOL for federal civil child sex abuse claims until the victim reached age 28 or until 10 years from the discovery of the violation or injury, this SOL still does not reflect the current state of research on delayed disclosure. Under the bill that now heads to the President’s desk, statutes of limitation will no longer serve as a bar to claims brought by survivors of child sex abuse under the federal civil remedy statute.
Durbin and Blackburn’s bill unanimously passed the Senate in March of this year.
Full text of the Blackburn-Durbin bill is available here.