RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton has introduced legislation that could put an end to statutes of limitation for child sex abuse. Henrico resident and survivor Fatima Smith supported the bill – she and Wexton say far too often, once a survivor gets the strength to come forward, they find they’re barred from seeking justice.
As an adult, Smith finally felt she had courage to tell police that an adult in her competitive cheerleading community inappropriately touched her as a child. “I was told the statute of limitations had expired,” said Smith.
She came to feel the law too often gives predators a pass. “It left me really feeling defeated and traumatized again,” she said.
Smith shared her story at the state capitol and fought for change in Virginia. Still, even with a recent extension in the law, Virginians only have until age 23 to take legal action for misdemeanor sex crimes. Laws on child sex crimes vary state to state.
Michael Dolce, a survivor himself and a partner at the national plaintiffs firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, has spent years advocating for elected officials across the U.S. to end statutes of limitation for child sex abuse. He was barred from seeking justice in his own abuse case.
“I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and I suffered the indignity getting to a point in my adulthood where I had recovered enough to find the courthouse doors locked,” said Dolce.
Dolce, who now represents other survivors, successfully pushed for the repeal of statutes of limitation laws on child sex assault where he lives in Florida. His motivation for change came after meeting the mother of man who killed himself after finding out police couldn’t take action against his abuser. He and two others came forward but under the law it was too late to take the case to court.
“There is absolutely no question that numerous predators have escaped the reach of the law based upon statute of limitations,” said Dolce.
Representative Wexton wants to level the playing field for all victims across the U.S., no matter where or when they speak up. Now, she’s introduced the Statutes of Limitations For Child Sex Abuse Reform Act.
Around 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys suffer child sexual abuse. “Fewer than a third actually come out and disclose the abuse while they are children,” Wexton said.
Then, when they do come forward, in many states the survivors find the time to take legal action has run out. She says the bipartisan bill could change that, “It would provide grants and financial incentives to states to reform their statues of limitations.”
It’s the kind of legislation Dolce has been pushing for. “There is absolutely no reason why children in one state should have less protection,” he said.
Advocates argue statutes of limitations not only handcuffs survivors but law enforcement too. Smith said, “We really want to make sure that we are doing our job as a community to put these offenders away.”
You can read the full bill below: