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Congresswomen introduce legislation to empower child sex abuse survivors

Rebecca Barnabi
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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States.

An estimated more than 80 percent of child victims never report their abuse to authorities, and many claims expire before victims are ready to take their cases to court. Approximately 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys suffer child sexual abuse.

Statutes of limitations laws in nearly every state are making it more difficult and even impossible for child sex abuse victims to pursue justice and hold their abuser accountable.

On Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia and María Elvira Salazar of Florida introduced bipartisan legislation to reform statutes of limitations (SOL) laws for child sexual abuse crimes. Only a handful of states have eliminated statutes of limitations for criminal and civil child sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking cases.

The Statutes of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse Reform Act authorizes $20 million in additional grants for states who achieve these reforms to allow survivors to seek justice on their own time without arbitrary barriers.

“An arbitrary deadline should not stand in the way of justice for one of the most despicable kinds of crime — child sexual abuse. Justice does not have an expiration date, and it is imperative that abusers are stopped and held accountable,” Wexton said. “As a former prosecutor and advocate for abused children, I understand the trauma these survivors are burdened with and am proud to lead this bipartisan legislation to support their healing journey and help them seek the justice they deserve on their own time.”

According to Salazar, legislators “must have zero tolerance for the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. I am proud to introduce this vital legislation with Congresswoman Wexton to ensure that the vile humans who take advantage of the most vulnerable do not get away unpunished.”

Research reveals many survivors of child sexual abuse are unable to move forward until they are more than 50 years old, well beyond the statute of limitations in most states.

Marci Hamilton, founder and CEO of CHILD USA, said the legislation “would be a major step forward at the federal level to establish a national standard for abuse survivors to seek justice by incentivizing states across the country to reform their restrictive statutes of limitations that continue to protect sexual predators and responsible institutions in our communities. Many states have dramatically improved their SOLs, and they deserve credit for that. But too many are dragging their feet. It’s time for Congress to incentivize the states to do the right thing to make sure that every survivor regardless of where they were abused can get access to justice. SOL reform not only levels the playing field for the victims, but it also serves the public’s need to know who is endangering our children.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.