How Long Do You Have to File a Sexual Abuse Claim in the United States?

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

Sexual abuse and assault are unfortunately common occurrences in our nation, negatively impacting both men and women. “Sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.”[1]Sexual assault can come in many forms: attempted or achieved rape (penetration of the victim’s body); fondling or unwanted sexual touching; and forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral or penetrating the perpetrator’s body.[2] Any form of sexual violence and harassment is illegal and can lead to multiple sanctions such as fines, probation, mandatory sex-offender reporting, and incarceration. But, the time to bring a civil or criminal suit is not infinite.

Although you can report sexual abuse at any time, to be able to seek civil redress or criminal sanctions against your perpetrator, you must report your abuse within your respective state’s statute of limitations. Sexual abuse victim defense lawyer Andrew Shubin is here to discuss the deadlines to file civil or criminal lawsuits against sexual abuse perpetrators in the United States.

Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Claims in the U.S.

Unfortunately, in our nation, for (most) crimes and civil penalties, there is a limit to how much time you have to bring such a claim. How long someone has to bring a legal claim is called a statute of limitations. “A statute of limitation is a law that sets the maximum time the parties involved have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense, whether civil or criminal.”[3] In other words, even if you were wronged and have a valid suit, you do not have an infinite amount of time to come forward and report it if you want legal action to be taken.

Deadline to File a Civil Lawsuit Against a Sexual Abuse Perpetrator

In a civil matter, the victim is suing to make them “whole,” which refers to compensating a victim in the form of monetary damages. Although the term whole is a legal term referring to compensating someone to try and redress the wrong that has been done to them, the attorneys at Shubin Law understand that no amount of money will make a victim whole in comparison to the harm done to them by an assault. Although some states are uniform, it is important to note that the statute of limitations can vary from state to state. Below are just three examples of how state laws can differ.

Pennsylvania

[4] In Pennsylvania, if a victim is over the age of 18 years old when they are sexually abused, they only have two years to file a civil suit against their accuser or others responsible for the abuse. Alternatively, Pennsylvania law is more relaxed if the victim is under the age of 18 when they are abused, and they provide for a substantial tolling period. A tolling period is a period of time in which the statute of limitations clock doesn’t run. In Pennsylvania, a victim under the age of 18 will have 12 years after they turn 18 to come forward and bring their civil suit.[5] One reason the law is more relaxed on minors, aside from the fact that they are not adults, is that 40% of child abusers re-offend, so giving a person more opportunity to come forward will hopefully lead to stopping more individuals from abusing children.

New Jersey

[6] New Jersey has similar laws to Pennsylvania in one respect but not the other. For starters, a sexual abuse victim over the age of 18 also has only two years to file a suit to properly be able to seek redress.[7] Alternatively, New Jersey law is a lot stricter for those under the age of 18 in reporting sexual abuse than those victims in Pennsylvania. New Jersey’s civil statute of limitations for sexual-abuse victims under the age of 18 expires “within 2 years of reasonable discovery.” This ambiguous language unfortunately holds minors to a higher standard and gives minors much less time to file a claim in court.

Ohio

[8] Ohio’s statute of limitations is the same as Pennsylvania. A victim over the age of 18 has two years to file their civil suit. Alternatively, for a minor, the statute of limitations doesn’t start running until their 18th birthday, and it is at that point in which the victim has 12 years to come forward to bring their claim.

Deadline to File a Criminal Lawsuit Against a Sexual Abuse Perpetrator

The criminal case dynamic is different than a civil case. For starters, the proof needed to convict a party is different as the fact finder must find that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, criminal claims are brought by the state (a prosecutor or district attorney) rather than the victim themselves. In Pennsylvania, for example, a victim has until the age of 50 to report sexual abuse to law enforcement in order for the state to file the claim. If the event occurs after the victim turns 50, then the victim has 12 years to file a claim if they want to subject the abuser to criminal liability.[9] Some states have special circumstances, such as the new one year window lawsuits for sexual abuse in New York.

Reasons Why Sexual Abuse Victims Do Not Report

[10] Having concerns about reporting sexual abuse is very common. Below are some, but by no means all, of the common concerns that people have when reporting sexual abuse.

  1. The perpetrator got scared away or stopped before finishing the assault: Even if the perpetrator stopped before achieving their desired act, this does not make it legal. Any “attempted rape” is still illegal and therefore redress and prosecution is still an option.
  2. They know the perpetrator: Unfortunately, 2 out of 3 victims know their accuser. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that any form of sexual abuse is illegal!
  3. They have been or currently are intimate / in a relationship with the perpetrator: Consent is needed in every situation, no matter how familiar or sexually engaged you are with someone. For example, even if you gave consent on Monday, consent is still needed from you on Tuesday. Just because you are in a relationship with someone does not mean that you are barred from bringing a sexual abuse claim.
  4. There are no physical injuries: While physical injuries can lead to more evidence of the abuse, injuries are not a prerequisite to bringing a valid claim or the only way to have proof. In fact, most victims receive no visual injuries at all from being sexually abused. Even so, it is important after an encounter to seek medical attention as some injuries may not have manifested or may be internally and not visible to you.
  5. They are worried law enforcement will not believe them: For starters, part of law enforcement training requires an officer to listen and transcribe all reports brought to them. Law enforcement pledges their duty to protect the public, and therefore they have a duty to take every complaint seriously and investigate them thoroughly.
  6. They don’t want to get in trouble: Some victims fear that they will get in trouble by law enforcement, their parents, or even their significant other if they report abuse. For example, a victim may think that they will get in trouble with law enforcement for reporting if they were underage drinking. Additionally, some victims fear that their parents or their significant other will reprimand them because they were engaged in sexual activity with someone. But, what is crucial to remember is that any type of sexual assault is a crime. Regardless of what you were doing at the time the assault took place, nothing you did makes the sexual assault legal if no consent was given.

National Attorneys for Sexual Abuse Victims Offering Free Consultations

At The Law Office of Andrew Shubin, we work to help victims of childhood and adult sexual abuse seek compensation from their abusers and the institutions that worked to cover up the abuse or allowed them to face harm. Andrew Shubin has extensive experience representing childhood sexual abuse and taking on large organizations, evidenced by his work and excellent results seeking redress for victims of former Penn State Football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. In addition to this, Andrew Shubin represents victims of sexual abuse in the church, sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, sexual abuse of the intellectually impaired, and more. To schedule a free legal consultation and learn more about your potential claim in a free, confidential consultation, contact our law office today at (814) 826-3586. We would be happy to help in any way we can!

 

Sources:

  • [1] Rainn.org. (2019). Sexual Assault | RAINN. [online] Available at: https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-assault [Accessed 12 Oct. 2019].
  • [2] Id.
  • [3] Investopedia. (2019). Understand How a Statute of Limitations Might Affect Your Court Case. [online] Available at: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/statute-of-limitations.asp [Accessed 6 Oct. 2019].
  • [4] Pcar.org. (2019). Statutes of Limitations | Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). [online] Available at: https://pcar.org/laws-policy/statutes-limitations [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].
  • [5] Pcar.org. (2019). Statutes of Limitations | Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). [online] Available at: https://pcar.org/laws-policy/statutes-limitations [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].
  • [6] Findlaw. (2019). Sexual Assault Civil Statutes of Limitations by State – FindLaw. [online] Available at: https://injury.findlaw.com/torts-and-personal-injuries/sexual-assault-civil-statutes-of-limitations-by-state.html [Accessed 11 Oct. 2019].
  • [7] Id.
  • [8] Id.
  • [9] LegalMatch Law Library. (2019). Pennsylvania Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse. [online] Available at: https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/pennsylvania-statutes-of-limitations-for-sexual-abuse.html
  • [10] Rainn.org. (2019). Reporting to Law Enforcement | RAINN. [online] Available at: https://www.rainn.org/articles/reporting-law-enforcement [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].
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