Recent changes to the law in at least 15 states have extended the clergy sexual abuse statute of limitations and, in some cases, provided lookback windows allowing victims to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. It is estimated that these changes will result in at least 5000 new cases filed with compensation paid to victims reaching $4 billion dollars or more.1
Extended Time Limits for Filing a Civil Suit or Criminal Charges
Statutes of limitations have always varied from state to state, and often required victims to report child sexual abuse by priests or clergy members by the time they were in their 20s. Many victims found it difficult to deal with the trauma and pain of their experience in time to have their day in court.
Victims of child sex abuse often experience serious emotional and mental health issues that may take years of therapy and counseling to overcome. Their personal relationships, careers, and even their physical well being can be affected. Extending the time limits to file a case and providing lookback windows will allow survivors to find the closure and compensation they need and deserve.
Statutes of Limitations by State for Filing a Sexual Abuse Claim
To date, 19 states have either extended their statutes of limitations for clergy sexual abuse or have provided lookback windows for alleged victims to file a personal injury lawsuit. Even in cases where these lookback windows have expired, they are often renewed. You may wish to consult with a clergy abuse attorney for current options in your state.
These states have recently changed their statutes of limitations:2
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- Washington D.C. (District of Columbia)
Alabama Statutes of Limitations
Recently, the state of Alabama raised the age limit to file a claim for alleged childhood sexual abuse from 21 to 25 years of age. There is no statute of limitations for rape as a Class B felony in the state. There is also no time limit for criminal prosecution of sex offenses involving a victim under the age of 16.3
Arizona Statutes of Limitations
Under Arizona law, there is no statute of limitations for prosecuting felony sexual assault. Civil lawsuits may be filed until the victim reaches the age of 30. In 2019, a 19 month “revival window” was opened to allow cases which would otherwise have expired to be filed. This window closed on December 30, 2020.
California Statutes of Limitations
In California, there is no statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sexual assault. Recent changes to the law now allow civil suits to be filed up to age 40, or five years after an alleged victim recognizes their injury. There is an active lookback window in California that allows claims which may have expired to be filed until December 31, 2022.
This law, known as the California Child Victims Act, or AB218, provides one of the longest lookback windows and farthest out age limit to file a lawsuit within the United States. It also allows extended time limits and triple damages in the event that an organization like a church or diocese can be shown to have covered up the abuse.4
Connecticut Statutes of Limitations
The statute of limitations in Connecticut to file criminal charges against clergy abusers or other alleged abusers is 30 years following the victim’s 18th birthday, or until they are 48 years of age. In 2019, the time limit for criminal prosecution of felony or misdeamenor sexual abuse of a child was lifted entirely.
Recent changes have extended the time limit for civil lawsuits until the victim reaches age 51. In cases of “fraudulent concealment” by an organization, the statute of limitations may be extended. There is also no time limit for civil cases when the alleged perpetrator has been found guilty of first degree sexual assault.5
Hawaii Statutes of Limitations
The state of Hawaii has no statute of limitations for filing criminal charges for first and second degree sexual assualt and the continuous sexual assault of a minor under age 14. Some felony sex offenses have time limits and other factors, including the collection of DNA evidence, can extend these time limits on criminal prosecution.
In many cases, the age limit to file a civil lawsuit is 26, or three years after a victim recognizes that they have been injured by child sexual abuse. Hawaii has had one of the longest lookback window opportunities, allowing six years for otherwise expired lawsuits to be filed; the most recent of these ended in April of 2020.5
Illinois Statutes of Limitations
In the state of Illinois, there is no criminal statute of limitations for felony and misdemeanor sexual crimes against children. There is some variation in the time limit to file civil cases in Illinois, ranging from within 20 years of the date the alleged abuse occurred to no time limit in cases of “fraudulent concealment” or with other exceptions. There are no lookback windows in place, but since 2014 most civil suits can be filed without a statute of limitations.5
Maine Statutes of Limitations
Maine eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children under the age of 16 in 1999. For victims over the age of 16 at the time the abuse occurred, the time limit is 20 years after the crime was allegedly committed.
Since 2000, there is no statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to file a civil suit in Maine. Because there is no statute of limitations, no lookback windows have been established in the state.
Massachusetts Statutes of Limitations
In the state of Massachusetts there is no statute of limitations on criminal prosecution for sexual assault or abuse of a child under the age of 18. However, if bringing charges on an incident that occurred more than 27 years ago, DNA or other corroborating evidence is required.5
Civil suits in Massachusetts can be filed against the alleged abuser up until the age of 53. Lawsuits filed against organizations or legal entities must be filed within seven years of the time the injury from abuse was discovered by the victim.
Michigan Statutes of Limitations
There is no criminal statute of limitations in Michigan for felony sex abuse, or first degree criminal sexual conduct. For second and third degree offenses, the time limit is 15 years from the date of the abuse, or age 28, whichever is greater. In 2018, the age to file a civil lawsuit for child sex abuse was raised to age 28, or seven years following the discovery by a victim that they had suffered injuries as a result of child sexual abuse.5
Montana Statutes of Limitations
Montana implemented sweeping reforms to statutes of limitations in 2019. Since that time, there is no time limit to prosecute felony or misdemeanor sexual abuse of children within the state. A one-year lookback window was opened for civil cases on May 7, 2019. The current time limit for civil lawsuits is by age 27, or within three years of a victim reasonably discovering that they were injured by childhood sexual abuse.5
New Jersey Statutes of Limitations
New Jersey opened a lookback window in 2019, which ends on November 30, 2021. There is no time limit for criminal prosecution of felonious sexual assault in the state. For criminal sexual conduct and endangering the welfare of a child, the age limit is 23 or up to five years after the crime occured. It should be noted that in cases where there is DNA or fingerprint evidence, the SOL does not begin to count down until that evidence is in the hands of state officials.
The time limit for civil lawsuits was greatly extended, allowing survivors to file against alleged perpetrators until they are 55 years old. They can also file suit against any responsible institutions that had reason to be aware that child sexual abuse was occurring.
New York Statutes of Limitations
The New York Child Victims Act was signed into law on February 14, 2019, establishing a civil suit lookback window that closed on August 14, 2021. First degree child sex abuse offenses are not subject to a statute of limitations in New York. Time limits for various other child sexual abuse offenses range from age 23 to age 43.
Civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse have been extended to age 55 in the state, which allows many survivors whose cases might have been considered expired a new opportunity to seek justice. These suits may be filed against perpetrators and both public and private institutions or organizations.5
North Carolina Statutes of Limitations
In 2019, North Carolina also revised its statutes of limitations that apply to cases of childhood sexual abuse by clergy. New legislation opened a 2-year revival window ending December 31, 2021 for civil claims that would have otherwise been past the time limit. Lawsuits may be filed against perpetrators or any responsible organization or legal entity.5
There is no time limit for criminal prosecution of felonies in the state, and a 10-year statute of limitations on misdemeanor charges. Once the lookback window closes, victims have until age 28, to file lawsuits for childhood sexual abuse, or three years from the time they discovered they had been injured.
Pennsylvania Statutes of Limitations
For most child sexual abuse offenses in the state of Pennsylvania, there is no statute of limitations for criminal prosecution. For some offenses, the time limit to file criminal charges ends at age 55. Civil lawsuits must be filed by the time the survivor reaches age 55. A lookback window was proposed but did not reach public referendum and has not been approved at this time.5
Rhode Island Statutes of Limitations
In Rhode Island, there is no statute of limitations for most child sex abuse felonies. For certain crimes, the time limit for criminal prosecution is three years after the abuse occurred. Recent changes have extended the time to file a civil suit until the alleged victim is 53 years old, or up to seven years after they realized they had been injured. Suits may be filed against perpetrators and employers, schools, churches, and other responsible organizations. It is also retroactive, allowing cases to be filed that were previously excluded.5
Tennessee Statutes of Limitations
There are some child sexual abuse felonies that do not have a statute of limitations in Tennessee, which recently revised its time limits. For other crimes, there is a reporting requirement by age 23 or 33.
The time limit to file a civil suit was raised to age 33, or three years after victims recognize they sustained injuries from child sexual abuse. The law also allows cases to be filed during that time period naming a John or Jane Doe as defendant while the alleged perpetrator is identified.5
Texas Statutes of Limitations
The state of Texas now has no statute of limitations for most child sexual abuse crimes. Some offenses are subject to a time limit of age 38 for the victim to file charges. If DNA evidence is available, those SOLs are waived.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse can file civil lawsuits against perpetrators up to age 48. The statutes also allow John or Jane Doe defendants if the survivor cannot identify their abuser before their time to file runs out. They then have 30 days after they discover the identity of the perpetrator to complete their filing.5
Vermont Statutes of Limitations
Vermont has made significant changes to protect the rights of sexual abuse victims. There is no time limit for criminal prosecution of the aggravated sexual assault of a child in the state. Other sexual crimes involving children under the age of 18 can be prosecuted up to 40 years after the abuse occurred.
In 2019, Vermont removed all time limits for survivors of child sex abuse to file lawsuits. This change is retroactive, reviving all past claims—the most noteworthy lookback window to date.
Washington DC Statutes of Limitations
Changes to the statutes of limitations in the District of Columbia opened a 2-year lookback window for survivors to file civil claims that had previously expired. This revival window expired on May 2, 2021.
For most child sex abuse felonies and incest offenses, there is no time limit for criminal prosecution. Currently, victims may file civil lawsuits in Washington DC up to age 40, or five years after they recognized that they were injured by childhood sexual abuse.
Statutes of Limitations in Other States
Many states have yet to make significant changes to their statutes regarding child sex or clergy abuse. Some already have solid legislation. In other states, reforms are still under discussion. These include:5
- Alaska has eliminated the SOL for felony sexual abuse, expanded criminal SOLs in 2013, and eliminated the SOL for some civil suits.
- Arkansas has extended the SOL and eliminated it for some felony offenses but made no changes to civil lawsuit time limits since 1993.
- Colorado has eliminated all criminal SOLs for child sex abuse. It has a short window for civil suits related to child sex crimes.
- Delaware has no SOL for criminal prosecution or civil claims related to child sex abuse.
- Florida has partially eliminated criminal and SOLs for child sex abuse and child sexual battery.
- Georgia has eliminated the criminal SOL for some felonies and added a 2-year discovery rule to the civil SOL. It offered a short lookback window for expired claims against perpetrators but not organizations.
- Idaho has made few changes but did eliminate the criminal SOL for some felonies and extended the age limit to file a civil suit for child sex abuse to 23, with a 5-year discovery window.
- Indiana has made few changes recently but has extended their criminal SOL for most felonies to age 31, eliminated felony child sex trafficking SOLs, and expanded the civil time limit by a small degree, including a discovery rule.
- Iowa has some of the most restrictive SOLs for filing criminal cases against child sex abusers and has kept the civil SOLs in place with only minor changes.
- Kansas eliminated the SOL for criminal rape charges and extended it for other sexual crimes but made no changes to the time limits to file civil lawsuits.
- Kentucky eliminated the SOL for some felonies back in 1974 and recently extended the time limit to file civil lawsuits for child sex abuse to age 28, with a discovery rule.
- Louisiana changed some criminal statutes of limitations but still has some of the shortest time limits in the country. Civil lawsuits for clergy abuse must be filed by the time the survivor is 28.
- Maryland has never had statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sex abuse and has extended the deadline to file a civil suit to age 38.
- Minnesota has made only minor revisions to criminal SOLs but eliminated the civil lawsuit time limits entirely and opened a 3-year window for previously expired claims in 2013.
- Mississippi has done away with the SOL for most child sex abuse felonies, but civil suits may only be filed until the survivor reaches the age of 24.
- Missouri has eliminated felony and misdemeanor time limits for criminal prosecution and has extended the SOL for filing civil claims to age 31, with a 3-year discovery rule.
- Nebraska has been steadily extending the SOL for criminal complaints of child sex abuse, and it has eliminated the time limit on filing a civil suit in 2017.
- Nevada extended the SOL for criminal prosecution to age 36, or age 43 in cases where it was not reasonably discoverable, and extended the civil suit SOL to age 38 in 2017. This state also allows a 20-year discovery period for victims to gain awareness of their injuries from past abuse.
- New Hampshire has made few changes to criminal SOLs recently, but it eliminated the time limit on filing a civil suit entirely in 2020.
- New Mexico has no statute of limitation for some felony criminal cases, with a DNA provision that extends the time limit on other offenses, only allowing civil suits to age 24 or three years after they reported the abuse.
- North Dakota has very tight statutes of limitations for these crimes, extending the SOL for criminal cases to a victim age of 39. Civil cases may be filed within 10 years of the incident.
- Ohio has not revised or eliminated criminal SOLs for child sex crimes recently. Felonies are extended to age 43 in some cases. Civil suits need to be filed before the survivor reaches age 30.
- Oklahoma has extended both the criminal and civil statutes of limitations to age 45.
- Oregon extended the time limit for filing criminal charges to age 30 and eliminated the SOL if there is a DNA match. Civil suits must be filed by age 40, with a 5-year discovery rule.
- South Carolina has eliminated all statutes of limitations on child sex abuse crimes for criminal prosecution, but it only allows civil suits to be filed up to age 27, with a 3-year discovery period.
- South Dakota has no SOL for criminal felonies and a time limit to file civil lawsuits at age 21 or within three years of discovering they were injured. The discovery window itself is capped at age 40 for filing suit against anyone but the perpetrator.
- Utah has eliminated SOLs for criminal cases, in 2008, and extended civil filing time limits in 2016, but these are limited to cases filed against perpetrators only.
- Virginia has eliminated the SOL for felony charges of child sexual abuse, with a civil suit time limit of age 38 against individuals and age 20 against institutions, subject to a 20-year discovery rule that can drastically extend the time for victims to file a civil lawsuit.
- Washington state has eliminated the SOL for most felonies, including sex abuse crimes, but has a short time limit for civil cases, which must be filed at age 21 or within three years of discovery.
- West Virginia has no SOL from felony child sex crimes to be prosecuted. The time limit for civil suits is age 36 with a 4-year discovery rule.
- Wisconsin has made reforms to criminal SOLs and has no time limit to prosecute most serious felonies. Some crimes have a time limit of a victim age of 45. Civil suits may be filed up to age 35.
- Wyoming has no SOL for criminal prosecution of felonies or misdemeanors. For civil claims of child sex abuse, claims must be filed by age 26 with a 3-year discovery rule when survivors realize they have been injured by past abuse.
Are You Considering Legal Action Against an Abuser?
It can be difficult for victims of child sex abuse to come forward. Many times, the abuser has made threats or shamed their victim, and it can take time to feel ready to take action that holds the perpetrator responsible for their crimes. Finding a law firm that understands the complexities of clergy abuse lawsuits and the trauma that follows this kind of abuse will help you choose between the legal options available to you.
An experienced attorney can help you determine if the statute of limitations is an issue in your decisions, inform you of your legal rights, and help you file a claim for damages if appropriate. At Saunders & Walker, P.A., we have helped many victims navigate the process and receive the compensation to which they are entitled.
Powerful organizations like the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, and other youth organizations have legal teams standing ready to defend them against valid accusations of hiding incidents and moving known abusers from one region to another to prevent legal consequences. Our experienced attorneys stand beside victims and prevent the intimidation tactics that are designed to keep victims silent.
If a loved one or you have been the victim of child sexual abuse, you need a trusted advocate to guide you. Call us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation and discuss your legal rights. Time may be of the essence, and we can help you take action before the window to do so has closed on your case.