Sex Abuse Victims Get Legal Help With NJ Bill [AUDIO]
Victims of child sexual abuse would have a wider window for justice under legislation advanced Thursday by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
The bill would remove the two-year statute of limitations in civil actions alleging sexual abuse of a minor, as well as expand the categories of those who are potentially liable in these actions.
"We need to eliminate the statute of limitations because it gives the victim the ability to come forward when they're ready," explained Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D), a sponsor of the measure.
Under current law, personal injury suits must be filed within two years of the damage being discovered (physical or psychological), but Quijano said many abuse victims aren't ready to come forward after "just two years."
She continued, "The impact of sexual abuse on children can be devastating and long-lasting. These victims should have the right to compensation for the suffering endured, without a timeline looming over their heads."
"This bill not only allows victims to bring their abusers to justice when they are ready, but holds accountable not just the abuser, but any responsible person who knew of the abuse and did nothing to stop it," explained bill sponsor Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D).
Under the bill, any person who knowingly permitted the sexual abuse would be civilly liable. Current law includes only parents and other guardian-like witnesses.
Patrick Brannigan, Executive Director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said the proposed legislation would do nothing to protect a single child.
"However, (the bill) would guarantee lawsuits for claims that are 30, 40 and 50 years old, and it also would guarantee enormous windfalls for lawyers," Brannigan said.
The statute of limitations would also be lifted for cases of sexual abuse allegations brought against a nonprofit corporation, society or association organized exclusively for religious, charitable or educational purposes.
Brannigan asked members of the legislature, "How can those who run institutions today respond to claims that are 40, 50 or 60 years old when the alleged perpetrator is likely deceased and those responsible for supervision and oversight are long dead?"
He said statutes of limitations exist because with the passage of time, witnesses die, memories fade and documents are lost.
The Judiciary Committee advanced the bill by a vote of 5-2.