Statute of Limitations in Child Sex Abuse Cases in the U.S – We Need Reform Now


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It often takes decades for a survivor of child sex abuse to come forward. Oftentimes, a child who is sexually abused isn’t even fully aware of the abuse until they reach middle adulthood or have children of their own. This is an all too common fact about child sex abuse and why it continues, generation after generation.

Sexual predators rely on the silence of their victims. That silence leads to more abuse, and state statute of limitations laws certainly make it harder for victims to get justice. The vast majority of survivors become ready to seek justice and face their abusers in their 30s and 40s. However, their claims are often barred by archaic statute of limitations laws. Essentially, statute of limitations laws only serve to silence victims. We must change that. Granted, a handful of states have abolished statute of limitations for child sex abuse; however, many state legislatures have tried, but failed to pass similar laws.

More: Sexual Violence in the U.S., Perspective from a Sex Abuse-Assault Lawyer

The recent Duggar family sex abuse scandal highlights the need for statute of limitations reform. When Josh Duggar was a teenager, the statute of limitations for criminal cases in Arkansas was a mere 3 years after a report was made (or seven years after the victim reached the age of 18). Arkansas prosecutors have declined to prosecute, citing the statute of limitations.

Fast forward to 2013, when the Arkansas legislature amended the state’s statute of limitations laws in criminal cases, eliminating the statute of limitations for certain child sex abuse crimes, such as sex assault in the first or second degree. For lower level crimes, such as sex assault in the third or fourth degree, the statute of limitations was also amended, requiring a victim to step forward by their 28th birthday.

In addition to the Duggar family scandal, the Dennis Hastert sex abuse scandal also highlights the need for statute of limitations reform. Hastert is facing criminal charges for allegedly lying to federal investigators about large, numerous cash withdrawals. It’s alleged those cash withdrawals were used to silence a man who’d come forward about allegations of decades-old sex abuse, when Hastert was a high school coach in Illinois. It’s unclear exactly when the abuse occurred. However, Hastert taught and coached in the 60s, 70s and 80s, when Illinois’ statute of limitations laws were in line with those in Arkansas. In a nutshell, Illinois law in effect during that time frame would bar any claims by Hastert’s victims.

More: Minnesota’s Proposed Child Sex Abuse Law Eliminating the Statute of Limitations

The Duggar and Hastert scandals underscore the need for statute of limitations reform in this country. The reality is that statute of limitations laws often protect predators, at the cost of their victims.

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