DC Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention

Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Amendment Act of 2007B17 - 0146 

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Introducer: Councilmember Barry

Co-Introducers: Chairman Gray and Councilmembers Brown, Catania, Cheh, Evans, Thomas, and Wells

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What is the Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Amendment Act of 2007? 

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This Bill attacks the horrific crime of childhood sexual abuse on three fronts. It will help protect the vulnerable, expose the predators and heal the victims. To accomplish the goal this bill makes three significant changes to the District of Columbia Official Code. 

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  1. Eliminates the statute of limitations in the criminal code for sexual abuse of children. .
  2. Eliminates the statue of limitations in the civil code for sexual abuse of children.
  3. Creates a two-year “window” of time during which adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse can sue the person who abused them as well as anyone who protected or covered for the predator, even if their previous statute of limitation has already expired. This “window” of time closes on August 1, 2009.

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Why is this change necessary? 

The time restrictions currently in place are arbitrary and archaic time limits that keep victims trapped in shame, silence and self-blame. Now predators have an incentive to intimidate their victims, threaten witnesses, destroy evidence and “run out the clock” on their crimes.  Childhood sexual abuse is by its very nature secret. The abuse is often the end result of a grooming process through which the perpetrator pressures the victim to keep the abuse secret or carefully selects victims whom the perpetrator believes will not tell others about the abuse.  Most victims of child sexual abuse are not able to report their abuse until they are well into adulthood. By then the statutes of limitation have run and the predator gets away with the crime. Yet, what is worse is that most predators move on to additional generations of children as the first groups of victims grow up.  This bill will stop the predators as soon as the first victims are able to come forward. Many predators still live and work in the District and their neighbors and employers will learn about their history of abusing children. This bill gives victims the forum to expose predators thereby putting the employers and neighbors on notice regarding the predator’s previous history. This will help keep children in the District safe.

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What is the current civil statute of limitations & how does this bill change it? 

Currently, an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse who wants to sue an abuser must file that lawsuit by the age of 21, (within three years of reaching the age of majority.) It is rare that any victim is able to come forward within this limited time. This bill would allow any survivor of childhood sexual abuse who has not already sued the abuser to do so at any time.   

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What about criminal prosecution?

Most child molesters are not prosecuted in criminal court because most victims of childhood sexual abuse are too young or confused to realize that they are being harmed by an abuser, and most child sex offenders successfully intimidate and threaten victims ensuring they won’t tell. By the time the victim of childhood sexual abuse realizes that she has been harmed and is old enough and strong enough to testify in court about the abuse, the criminal statute of limitations has usually expired.  This bill ensures that criminals can be prosecuted for future acts of abuse at any time the victim is able and there is sufficient evidence to indict the predator. In Maryland and Virginia, there are no statutes of limitations on any felony.  This bill for the District merely seeks no statute of limitations on child sexual abuse.  

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What is wrong with the current law?

The time period currently allowed by the District Code ensures that most predators are not caught. Most are never held accountable for their crimes. The current restrictive time limit does not reflect current understandings in the mental health profession. It is widely understood that victims of child sexual abuse are not able to tell until they are well into adulthood. This bill updates the Code to concur with understandings from social science.  This bill is also important because it exposes sexual predators as well as those who enable or shield them, and holds them accountable for the harm they have caused. When sex offenders are not held accountable for their behavior, they are more likely to continue to sexually abuse other children. This freedom to continue abusing results in additional assaults on children and additional victims. This new law helps stop this increase in violence against children. It will make the District one of the safest places in the United States for children.

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For more information:     

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Barbara Blaine, SNAP President, 312 399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com

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Aimee Occhetti, Capitol Contact, 202 716 7466, aimee@capcontact.com

 
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