March 04, 2022

Senate Unanimously Passes Durbin, Blackburn Bill to Support Survivors of Sex Abuse

This legislation - written following landmark Judiciary Committee hearing on the Larry Nassar sex abuse case - will ensure that survivors of child sex abuse are able to seek justice in federal court without being barred by statutes of limitations

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act by unanimous consent.  This legislation—led by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)—would ensure that survivors of child sex abuse are able to seek justice under the federal civil remedy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2255, without being barred by statutes of limitations.  In practice, it would enable survivors who were victims of over a dozen federal child sex abuse offenses to seek civil damages in federal court no matter how long it has taken the survivor to process and disclose the abuse he or she suffered.

“The elite gymnasts who appeared at our September hearing on the Nassar abuse case delivered some of the most compelling testimony I’ve ever heard,” Durbin said.  “Cases like theirs make clear that we must do more to bring justice for survivors.  Finally eliminating civil child sexual abuse statutes of limitations will allow survivors to have their day in court and a moment of healing.”

“There is zero excuse not to seek justice in child sex abuse cases,” Blackburn said.  “I want to thank the brave women who exposed this neglect for being such fierce advocates for future generations.  Our work is far from over, but it is my hope that this legislation will allow all survivors of child sex abuse to seek the justice they deserve and one day find closure."

On September 15, 2021, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “Dereliction of Duty: Examining the Inspector General’s Report on the FBI’s Handling of the Larry Nassar Investigation.”  This hearing was convened in light of an Inspector General report documenting the FBI’s failure to properly investigate allegations that Larry Nassar was assaulting young athletes, which enabled the continued abuse of dozens of additional victims.  

According to CHILD USA, the National Think Tank for Child Protection, data suggests that 86 percent of child sexual abuse goes unreported.  For victims who do report their abuse, “delayed disclosure,” or the tendency of survivors of child sex abuse to wait for years before disclosing abuse to others, is common. One study of more than 1,000 survivors found that the average age of survivors at the time of disclosure was about 52 years old.

Historically, delayed disclosure has impacted survivors’ path to justice.  Survivors often were barred from civil and criminal remedies at the time they disclosed their abuse due to statutes of limitations (SOLs) that did not take into account evidence regarding delayed disclosure.  In recent years, however, many states have expanded opportunities for victims to access justice by lengthening SOLs.  Since 2002, 48 states and Washington D.C. have amended their child sex abuse laws to expand or eliminate SOLs in varying degrees.

Under current federal law, no statute of limitations bars the prosecution of criminal offenses involving child sex abuse anytime while the child victim is alive or 10 years after the offense, whichever is later.  However, statutes of limitations remain an obstacle for survivors under the federal civil remedy statute.  While Congress in 2018 lengthened the SOL for federal civil child sex abuse claims until the victim reached age 28 or until 10 years from the discovery of the violation or injury, this SOL still does not reflect the current state of research on delayed disclosure.

Along with Durbin and Blackburn, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Jon Ossoff (D-GA).

The legislation is endorsed by CHILD USA, RAINN, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), and the Army of Survivors.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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