Lawmakers consider lengthy extension to statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse

Updated: Feb. 27, 2020 at 5:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A bill moving through the state House would allow victims of childhood sex abuse 50 years after they turn 18 to decide if they want to pursue a claim.

It’s a dramatic change to the statute of limitations.

And it comes in the wake of other efforts aimed at helping victims seek legal claims.

In recent years, windows for bringing claims have been re-opened in the islands, resulting in millions being paid out from schools, churches, and non-profits.

If the bill does not pass the Legislature, the current window will close in April.

“It allows them to seek justice,” said state Rep. Chris Lee, who introduced the bill. “Victims who, I think, feel that they couldn’t speak out and their voices didn’t matter.”

State Rep. Sylvia Luke says she has heard from those were fearful about making the outcry if the abuser was still in a position of power.

“We want to give them time to at least feel comfortable in coming forward,” Luke said.

Nationwide, there’s been a push to extend both civil and criminal statutes of limitations on child sex assault. There are currently 10 states with no deadline for civil claims: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, Vermont.

So far, the bill has had strong support.

No one testified in opposition but the state Attorney General’s office expressed concern that very old cases are difficult for institutions being sued to defend.

“Memories fade, witnesses move or pass away, and documents are lost or destroyed," the written testimony said.

The bill passed the Judiciary and Finance committees and the full House will vote on it next.

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