Advocates for victims of sexual abuse, and their legislative allies, are hopeful that a bill to be introduced next week will stop the clock for perpetrators and facilitators of the crime.
The Minnesota Child Victims Act would eliminate the current statute of limitations for civil lawsuits, allowing victims of sexual abuse to seek retribution for past offenses.
“We have a network of crisis centers across the state, and what our advocates hear on a daily basis is adults who are starting to recognize that the problems they’re having in their daily lives are rooted in abuse,” said Donna Dunn, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The bill is designed to expand the powers of victims, who often go years after they are abused before realizing the effects on their lives.
Dunn said the consequences of abuse aren’t always immediately obvious.
“We know that victims of child sexual assault are the most silent,” she said. “I think part of it is the initial inability to recognize how this has a role in negative outcomes in their lives. Very often, it isn’t until someone reaches that point that they’re able to evaluate from an adult perspective who had power in their lives and how that power was used.”
Currently, Minnesota law prevents anyone older than 24 from filing a lawsuit against his or her aggressor. And while the act would still require victims to prove abuse took place, it gives them more time to seek justice, said Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.
“This change in the law recognizes the differences that these victims have, in being willing to confront the perpetrators and facilitators, who may still be in positions of power and hold sway over the victims to this day,” Latz said.
Recent cases like those at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, where a former teacher was charged with 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct in October 2012, and allegations of abuse at the Breck School, were cited by Dunn and Latz as examples of organizations that played a role in facilitating abuse.
A Hennepin County judge, in November 2012, dismissed a suit against the Breck School filed by Richard Covin, because it was past the existing statute of limitations.
With the passage of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, Covin would be able to file another lawsuit against the school, and any perpetrators.
The act is expected to be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Latz is chair, on Monday.
“Delay is no safe harbor,” Latz said. “They can’t simply cover it up and wait.”