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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Proposal would lift statute of limitations on child sexual abuse

A proposal in the House would lift the statutes of limitations on civil and criminal actions in cases of child abuse and child sexual abuse.

Missouri law has a 10-year statute of limitations on actions for damage or personal injury caused by child sexual abuse and allows prosecution of sex crimes against people up to age 18 only up to 30 years after that person turns 18.

Representative Brandon Ellington’s (D-Kansas City) proposal, HB 247, would change that.

“By removing the statute of limitations we’re not guaranteeing conviction. The only thing that we’re doing is allowing people to go back and prosecute or face their abuser.”

Ellington says typically, a victim waits until after the statute of limitations is up before they are ready to admit that he or she has been abused.

Human Rights worker Alvin Sykes says this was the case for him. He says he was sexually abused when he was 11 but didn’t tell anyone for 16 years.

“I didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t go back and tell mama because she told me to stay away from these people in the first place … I didn’t think about the police because I thought they were too far away.”

Missouri Kids First Child Deputy Director Emily Van Schenkhof tells a House Committee, child sex abuse crimes are the least likely to be reported, and most likely to be reported long after they occur, of all the crimes in Missouri’s criminal code.

“We estimate that probably only around 25% of child sex crimes, if that, are ever reported to the authorities. In my time in doing this work I have spoken to probably more than 100 victims of child sexual abuse and when most of them end their story, they end by saying “I have never told anyone.”

Van Schenkhof says a common concern about lifting the statute is that there could be an influx of accusations. She reminds lawmakers that due process provisions will still be in place to protect the accused.

She says the situations most likely to be affected would be the most egregious ones, “Where there was a serial predator and multiple victims. Those would probably be the only type of cases where the changes to the statute of limitations, particularly on the criminal side, would come into play.”

The legislation would also specify that prosecutions for child abuse can begin at any time.

No vote has been taken yet on the proposal.


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