Senate advances bill that would extend window for childhood sex assault claims

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just more than five years ago, when the state Legislature last re-opened a window that allowed old sexual assault survivors to come forward, more than 150 lawsuits were filed against abusers.

Legal experts say that there are still many more.

"The victims and the survivors are still under-reporting. They still can't talk about everything that has happened to them," said victims' attorney Brian Mackintosh. "They still have a hard time talking about it."

As the #MeToo movement and multi-million dollar settlements against the Hawaii Catholic Church and Kamehameha Schools have brought many new cases to light, there has been growing pressure on legislators to lift deadlines that prevent people from suing over childhood abuse.

A bill heard on Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee extends the statute of limitations another four years, allowing victims of childhood sex abuse to bring legal actions forward until they reach age 40.

The state attorney general's office says extending the window could lead to frivolous lawsuits.

"I'm not saying there are many, many false claims, but we have seen false claims. We know they exist. We know they have happened," said Deputy Attorney General Caron Inagaki.

"You're talking about three cases that were settled that you had questions about, but what if there's 100 other cases where there was grave damage to people," state Sen. Laura Thielen countered.

Attorney Mark Gallagher says most of the victims who have filed suit in Hawaii are men – but recent events in Hollywood and in the political sphere could bring about a new wave of claimants.

"There are many more women who were survivors of abuse who have not yet gotten to the point of bringing a claim," he said. "I think it's just the beginning. The #MeToo movement and the gymnastics doctor, I think it's the beginning of the survivors finding their voices."

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed their version of the bill, which next heads to the full Senate.

Copyright 2017 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.