New Jersey gives victims of trespassers more time to file lawsuits than people who were sexually abused. Lawmakers and activist want to change that.

Efforts are moving forward to give victims of sexual abuse in New Jersey more time to file lawsuits against their abusers. This could affect an estimated 1.8 million victims of sexual abuse in the state.

While there is no statute of limitations for filing criminal charges, there's a two-year clock for filing a civil case. If the victim is a minor, they have within two years after they turn 18. But proposed legislation would allow the underage victims to file suit until they turn 55 years old, or even longer in certain instances.

If a victim does not realize they were a victim of sexual assault until they enter therapy or understand what happened, they would have an additional seven years to file a civil suit regardless of their age.

The language of the proposed measure, sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, focuses on minors who have been sexually abused by clergy. But Patricia Teffenhart, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition against Sexual Assault, said she backs efforts to expand the scope of the legislation to include all victims of sexual assault in the Garden State.

“What we’re looking to do is make sure that all survivors of sexual assault have expanded pathways to justice, and two years is simply not a sufficient amount of time," she said.

She explained many victims are so traumatized after a sexual assault that they may not come to grips with what happened or even discuss it with anyone for years.

“The two-year civil statute of limitations is not founded in anything that we now know about the impact of trauma," she said. "We now understand exactly why there are so many instances of delayed reporting.”

“A two-year civil statute of limitations is incredibly disrespectful when on the books in New Jersey we have a six-year civil statute of limitations for trespassing," Teffenhart said.

She added the case involving Katie Brennan — the former Phil Murphy campaign volunteer who says she was sexually assaulted by a fellow campaign worker, then ignored for almost two years after she reported the crime while her attacker was given a high-level job within the Murphy administration — reflects the fact that “even when survivors do everything right to hold their perpetrators accountable in every way possible, our systems and laws just don’t often make that very possible for us.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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