Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sex abuse bill
House panel advances sex-abuse bill
By Amanda Iacone | Virginia Statehouse News
Published: January 25, 2011
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nowBuzz up!RICHMOND, Va. --
Delegates in the Virginia House on Monday moved quickly on a bill that would give victims of sexual abuse more time to sue their alleged abusers.

There was no debate on the bill when it reached the House floor Monday afternoon. A final vote in the House is expected later this week. The Senate still has not set a date to hear arguments on similar legislation.

The House version would give victims eight years to file a civil lawsuit against their alleged abuser either from the time of the abuse or from the time the victim remembers what happened.

Del. David Albo, R-Fairfax County, said the legislation is straightforward and isn’t controversial for lawmakers.

While Virginia law affords people two years to file lawsuits in civil cases, Albo said more time is needed in sexual abuse cases because children often don’t understand what is happening to them nor recognize that the treatment is wrong.

The House Courts of Justice Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the full House for consideration.

Albo initially proposed increasing the statute of limitations from the standard two years for civil cases to 25 years. But lawmakers felt that was too long.

They settled on eight years, which is on the high end compared to most other states, Albo said. But the Virginia Catholic Conference lobbied to reduce the statute of limitations in the bill. The Senate version still contains the 25-year cap.

Lobbyists for the Catholic Church have fought to block similar legislation in other states, including Maryland as recently as 2009, despite ongoing scrutiny over the church’s handling of sexual-abuse cases involving priests in countries around the world.

Margaret Mikkelsen, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville, said she doesn’t know how many of her agency’s clients would seek justice by suing their abuser. But today, that option doesn’t really exist, she said.

The agency serves about 80 adults a year who were molested as children. It provides therapy and crisis intervention, and works with victims as they navigate the justice and legal system, Mikkelsen said.

“It’s always helpful to provide the victim options in seeking justice in whatever way they choose. Two years doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Mikkelsen said.

While the bill aims to help children victimized by sexual abuse, it includes a provision to protect the incapacitated.

Virginia Statehouse News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity dedicated to providing transparency at the state government level and to hold government officials accountable.

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