Thursday, January 27, 2011

Statute of limitations
Add time for victims to file suit
By Daily Progress Staff
Published: January 26, 2011
» 0 Comments | Post a Comment
nowBuzz up!Eight years? Twenty-five years? Both sides have some thoughtful arguments for how long Virginia’s statute of limitations should be for molestation victims filing lawsuits.

But we know this: Two years is too short.

Under current law, victims have two years in which to take action. The count begins when a victim turns 18 or discovers personal damage.

The House of Delegates has unanimously passed legislation extending the statute of limitations to eight years. The state Senate has a version of the bill putting that limit at 25 years.

Leaders of the Catholic Church say that is an unfair length of time, and are lobbying for the eight-year limit.

This in turn has outraged victims and victims’ advocates, who contend that eight years is an insultingly inadequate length of time.

If that’s so, then two years must be downright cruel.

At issue, of course, is responsibility for the Church’s appalling practice in times past of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests. Nationally, cases that are being brought to light these days may date back to the 1960s.

Under current state law, someone who had been molested as a child would have to file suit by age 20. Or, if his memories had been repressed until some later date, he would have to file suit within two years of recognizing what had happened to him.

Either scenario potentially puts a huge burden on the victims. In the one case, an abuse victim at age 20 or younger would have to be unusually mature and mentally tough to go through the strains of pursuing a lawsuit.

In the other, the victim would have to face memories of abuse and make a miraculous emotional recovery in two short years in order to have enough emotional stamina to take on a lawsuit.

In fact, given the severity of the trauma, it might take many years of counseling for a victim to work through the mental and emotional damage — perhaps just to reach the point where he could calmly even consider the option of a lawsuit.

This is part of the argument made by abuse victims: Eight years is insufficient time for a victim to recover sufficiently to deal with a possible suit and all the hurt it would rekindle.

Indeed, many contend that because abuse causes irreparable harm and victims have to live with that damage all their lives, there should be no statute of limitations on when a victim can sue.

Church leaders argue that after 25 years, too much time has passed for either victim or perpetrator to have an accurate recollection of events. Justice could be distorted if decisions were based on inaccurate or incomplete memories.

No matter what limit is set, it must be somewhat arbitrary. There is always the possibility that someone may be denied a chance at justice by missing the statutory limitation, no matter how long it is; or that someone else has been unjustly accused as the result of doubtful memory recall, not matter how short the limit.

The eight-year limit is probably on the low side of fairness.

But one thing’s for sure: A two-year limit is disgracefully deficient.

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