Lawmakers want to give sex abuse victims from decades past the chance to file suit

Updated: Jan. 25, 2018 at 7:08 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii lawmakers want to give more abuse victims the chance to come forward and file civil lawsuits, no matter how much time has passed.

Bills introduced in both the House and Senate failed last session, but a national movement to expose abusers and the high profile case against Kamehameha Schools could add momentum for the legislation.

Representative Linda Ichiyama and Senator Maile Shimabukuro introduced companion bills which would extend the window for lawsuits despite the statute of limitations.

"What we're learning from data and research about trauma and what happens to a person's brain when they undergo trauma is that they're not ready to bring suits until much later," says Ichiyama, "I think we need to adjust policies to reflect that research now that we know."

More than a hundred victims came forward between 2012 and 2016, a four-year window that was opened for old sex abuse cases. Most of the cases involved catholic church priests and a psychiatrist who molested boys while they attended Kamehameha Schools.

Shimabukuro says national movements like the "#MeToo" campaign have also highlighted the need for victims to stand up and expose abusers.

"Less and less people are having shame for something that happened to them that wasn't their fault," says Shimabukuro.

Attorney General Doug Chin testified about similar bills last session warning lawmakers that reopening the window could be costly for his office to defend if the state is sued, but Chin says he does support the new proposals. "Legislators pointed out there weren't that many cases that were brought against the state even when the window was open."

Another bill introduced would make it a felony for teachers and doctors, so called 'mandatory reporters' who don't take action if they have knowledge of sex assault. That bill, H.B. 2429, directly mentions Kamehameha Schools and the cover up that allowed psychiatrist Dr. Robert Browne to continue molesting Kamehameha students for decades.

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