Monday, May 3, 2010

Rep. Driggs refuses to lift the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse

STATE CAPITOL, Phoenix – Despite pleas from sexual assault victims, Rep. Adam Driggs (R-11) has killed his own bill that included an amendment that would have allowed victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue those responsible for the abuse.

HB 2699 was amended in the Senate to include SB 1292 sponsored by Senator Amanda Aguirre (D-24) that eliminates the civil statute of limitation for a child sex abuse victim to sue the person or entity that perpetrated the abuse or negligently allowed it to happen. SB 1292 is known as the Arizona's Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Act among the child abuse prevention advocate community at the state and national level.

“There was no legitimate reason to kill this bill,” said Aguirre. “The bill ensures that only those defendants that are responsible for allowing the sexual abuse to occur will be held accountable and subject to civil suit. This is an important protection, because the bill is only designed to hold the sexual abusers, and those entities that enabled the abuse to occur, accountable for their actions.”

“Killing this bill only protects pedophiles and insurance companies. That is not who we should be fighting for as legislators. Childhood sexual abuse victims should have their day in court and the abusers should be held accountable,” said Aguirre.

The bill, with the amendment, passed the Senate unanimously by a vote of 28-0. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary committee on Feb. 22 as SB 1292 with a bipartisan and unanimous vote of 7-0.

To move to a final vote, Rep. Driggs (R-11) only needed to concur with the changes approved by the entire Senate.

What is the Aguirre Amendment to HB 2699?
The amendment eliminates the civil statute of limitation for a child sex abuse victim to bring a cause of action against the person or entity that perpetrated the abuse or negligently allowed it to happen.

The bill also creates a one-year "window" of time that allows adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to bring an action against the persons who abused them. Many child sexual abuse cases are not prosecuted; this bill creates a tool for many victims to hold the perpetrator accountable in civil court. The “window” applies to those survivors whose civil statute of limitations has already expired and who have not already sued the persons who abused them.

What is the current civil statute of limitations and how does this bill change that law?
Under current Arizona law, to sue a sexual abuser of a child, an adult survivor of that childhood sexual abuse must file that lawsuit by the time he or she turns the age of 20. The reason for this is that Arizona has a 2-year statute of limitations, but the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the child reaches the age of 18.

How does Arizona law compare with other states?
Arizona has one of the most restrictive civil statutes of limitation in the nation for victims of child sex abuse. 44 other states offer some type special provision for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

What about criminal prosecution?
Less than 10% percent of child molesters are prosecuted. 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 witnesses, threaten victims, destroy evidence, and otherwise prevent victims from disclosing the abuse.

Why should there be no statute of limitations?
Many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse are not able to file a lawsuit during the time period currently allowed by law. 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. Injuries caused by childhood sexual abuse include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, debilitating depression and suicide attempts. Sometimes these symptoms do not develop until the victim is an adult. Because of these injuries, and the threats and intimidation that often accompany them, many victims are unable to file a lawsuit during the time allowed.

Why is this bill important?
The amendment to the bill is important because it exposes sexual predators 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; the freedom to continue abusing results in more assaults on children and more victims.

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