When one has suffered a psychological trauma, it can take a long time before the victim is ready to talk about it. This is especially true of traumas suffered during the formative years of childhood. Among victims of childhood sexual abuse, for instance, the average age that victims come forward to tell their story is 52 years old. That’s the better part of a lifetime spent holding on to shame and guilt that rightfully belongs to the perpetrator – not the victim.
It is important to let survivors come forward on their own timeline, but waiting too long can limit a person’s legal options. This is because of the statute of limitations, which is a cap on how much time a victim has to file a lawsuit against his or her abuser and/or a third party. There is also a criminal statute of limitations, which protects the abuser from being prosecuted for a crime after a certain amount of time has passed.
In light of how long it takes victims to come forward, many states have either amended or are working to amend their civil statutes of limitation for victims who were sexually abused as children. In all, 37 states have pursued legislation to eliminate or greatly extend statutes of limitation related to child sexual assault. Some states start the clock from the time the victim turns 18 rather than the time of the offense. And some states have even passed laws allowing a limited “revival window” for victims to pursue legal action even if the statute of limitations has expired in their case.
Changes like these are very positive, and they demonstrate an increasing understanding of just how difficult it can be for sex abuse victims to come forward. Hopefully, the trends will continue.
Here in New Mexico, the statute of limitations depends on a number of factors, including whether the victim was an adult or a child, what type of offense was committed, whether the defendant is a third party and whether that third party is a public or private entity. Needless to say, it can be confusing. If you are considering taking legal action and want to understand what your rights and options are, please reach out to an experienced attorney like those at our firm.