24 Feb Strengthening the Statute of Limitations for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
By Cortney Downs, Kentucky Youth Advocates
One in four girls and one in thirteen boys will experience sexual abuse at some point in their childhood, with more than 90% of perpetrators being someone the child or their family knows. Research tells us that most adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse don’t disclose, or tell anyone, about their abuse until much later in their lives. And when abuse is disclosed during childhood there are still delays.
James Van Buren, MD, FAAP, UK Healthcare Department of Pediatrics and Medical Director for the Department of Juvenile Justice, acknowledges that, “it is not uncommon for victims of childhood sexual abuse to take years to divulge or even recognize their abuse.”
There are numerous and complex reasons that some children don’t disclose their abuse right away, if at all. With approximately 34 percent of all child sexual assault victims being under the age of twelve, it should come as no surprise that many children lack the capacity to understand that they have been sexually abused and others are unable to articulate it. The severity and duration of the abuse will also impact if, or when, a child discloses.
Once they do understand and can articulate what happened, it’s not uncommon for them to feel shame, guilt, embarrassment, fear, to blame themselves, or to think that no one will believe them. Naomi Warnick, MD, JD, Pediatric Resident at the University of Louisville shared a similar experience: “It took a long time for me to realize that what happened wasn’t my fault and then to realize that I wasn’t going to get in trouble or looked down upon for saying something, even years later.”
That’s why it’s critical for the Kentucky legislature to extend the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse. Representative Lynn Bechler is the lead sponsor of House Bill 472, which will extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor sex offenses involving minors from five years after their eighteenth birthday to ten years after their eighteenth birthday.
Using the term ‘misdemeanor sex offense’ broadens the scope of what’s covered under this statute change to include sexual assault, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and several other offenses involving minors. And this legislation would be retroactive, meaning that anyone who was abused as a minor who missed the current 5-year window for reporting their abuse would be eligible to report as long as the 10-year window was still open.
There are several things that advocates can do today to help get HB 472 passed:
1. Familiarize yourself with what’s in the bill language. We know that bill language can be wonky and confusing, but it’s important to know what you like and support or what you would like to see changed.
2. Reach out to your legislator, especially if they are on the House Judiciary Committee. If they’re not on the Judiciary Committee, we still need as many legislators as possible to know why this is an important issue and why they should support it if it’s going to pass. Remember, legislators love hearing from their constituents, so if you have a story that you’re comfortable sharing then please do so.
3. Activate your networks. Kentucky Youth Advocates has a lot of helpful resources that can make it easier to be an advocate for kids and families:
– Share the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children fact sheet to educate people in your networks about this issue.
– Use and share this advocacy toolkit and legislator lookup tool and ask your friends, family, and coworkers to call, email or schedule a visit with their legislator.
– Use Kentucky Youth Advocates’ bill tracker to stay informed about the status of HB 472.
Learn more about the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children and Kosair Charities Face It Movement 2021 priority to strengthen the current statute of limitations timeframes for misdemeanor sexual abuse offenses. Stay up-to-date on Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities that are good for kids with the Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.
*Photo courtesy of Kentucky Youth Advocates