Enacted Child Sex Abuse Legislation
In 2020, eight states enacted legislation to change their statutes of limitations around sexual offenses against minors.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the crime and the intended legal action (i.e., criminal charges versus a civil claim).
Below are the legislative changes in two states: Florida and New York.
Florida Enacts Donna’s Law
On June 23, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 199 (HB 199) into law. This new law is commonly referred to as Donna’s Law.
Donna’s Law eliminates the criminal statute of limitations for sexual battery against a person under 18 years of age.
Florida law defines sexual battery as “oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object.” The law excludes an act done for medical reasons.
The law went into effect on July 1, 2020. Unfortunately, it is not a retroactive law. Thus, it can help any childhood victim of sexual battery who was assaulted on or after July 1, 2020, in the state of Florida. However, older cases of child sexual battery still fall under the state’s original criminal statutes of limitations.
New York Expands Child Victims Act Provisions
Additionally, the CVA opened a one-year “look back” window. During the “look back” window, any survivor of child sexual abuse may file a civil claim against an abuser or the responsible institution.
The one-year “look back” window was set to close on August 13, 2020. However, state courts closed for several months due to COVID-19 measures. To give survivors more time, lawmakers passed a one-year extension to keep the window open. The New York CVA’s “look back” window is now set to close on August 14, 2021.
Proposed Child Sex Abuse Legislation
In 2020, 30 states proposed new child sexual abuse legislation. Below are significant legislative proposals in several states.
In February 2020, Arizona state senators introduced Senate Bill 1660 (SB 1660). Among other measures, the bill would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sex trafficking. The bill passed a Senate vote in March 2020 and now sits in the Arizona House of Representatives.
On December 31, 2020, the Arizona “look back” window closed for child sexual abuse survivors. Going forward, Arizona survivors of child sexual abuse must file a civil claim against their abuser before the statute of limitations expires.
In February 2020, Colorado lawmakers proposed House Bill 1296 (HB 1296). HB 1296 would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault cases in the state of Colorado. The bill’s measures were not retroactive.
The bill passed through the Colorado House. However, shortly after it was introduced to the Senate, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, Senator Julie Gonzales, asked that it be voted down.
Senator Gonzales intends to propose a similar bill that does more for survivors by opening a “look back” window to revive expired cases.
In January 2020, Florida state senators introduced Senate Bill 1184 (SB 1184). The bill would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for certain sexual offenses and open a one-year “look back” window.
The bill failed to pass in the state Senate in March 2020.
In July 2020, Massachusetts state senators introduced Senate Bill 2815 (S. 2815). The bill is still with the state Senate. If passed, S. 2815 would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims. Additionally, it would open a permanent revival window for expired childhood sex abuse claims in the state.
This permanent revival window is similar to legislation passed in Vermont.
Future Of Child Sex Abuse Legislation In The U.S.
Over the course of the past few years, numerous states have revised and expanded their statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse claims. As more examples of institutional sex abuse are discovered in schools, religious groups like the Catholic Church and youth organizations, more states are likely to continue this legislative trend.
An Act eliminating the statute of limitation in civil child sexual abuse cases, Senate Bill 2815, 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Massachusetts 2020).
Civil Action Statute Of Limitations Sexual Assault, House Bill 1296, 72nd General Assembly (Colorado 2020).
Child Sex Trafficking; Omnibus, SB 1660, 54th Legislature (Arizona 2020).
Child USA. (2020, March 6). 2020 SOL Summary.
Online Sunshine. (N.D.) The 2020 Florida Statutes. Retrieved November 30, 2020.
OpenStates. (N.D.) SB 1660.
SB 1184, (Florida 2020).