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Statutes of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are the time limits that a victim of sexual assault has to file a legal claim.

Criminal cases are filed by the state and must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Convicted offenders may face incarceration, fines or both.

Civil cases are filed by individuals and must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely to have occurred than not. Civil law is designed to make the victim “whole,” usually in the form of monetary damages. Currently, victims who were over the age of 18 at the time of the abuse have two years to file civil cases. Victims who were under the age of 18 when the abuse occurred have 12 years after their 18th birthday to file civil charges.

Sexual Assault Laws in PA

To learn more about the statutes of limitations, contact your local district attorney.

PCAR Supports Statutes of Limitation Reform:

Sexual violence is a serious and complex problem. The good news is prevention is possible. Reforming or eliminating the statutes of limitations (SOL) is in the best interest of public safety.

Since the lifetime re-offending rate for sex offenders who abuse children is nearly 40 percent, it’s important that we identify them even after a long time has passed.*  SOL reform would maximize opportunities for all victims to heal, seek justice and protect the community, including the majority that were NOT abused by religious leaders.

The effects of child sexual abuse can be long lasting. PCAR supports the complete elimination of criminal and civil statutes of limitations which would maximize opportunities for victims to heal, seek justice and protect the community.

PCAR supports including a one-time two-year window of opportunity for survivors of past child sexual abuse who were previously blocked from seeking civil damages.

Benefits of including a limited window:

  • Puts public safety first by revealing abusers who were previously unknown and have hidden behind SOL laws - preventing future crimes
  • Gives survivors of past abuse who have timed out of the criminal process the opportunity to bring their experiences and evidence to an attorney to see if they are able to bring civil action
  • Provides the victim with the ability to seek civil damages and shift costs back on the perpetrator or the organizations that failed to keep them safe

PA’s current and past statutes of limitations have imposed arbitrary time limits which do not provide the time, distance and personal healing from sexual trauma that many survivors require before they are able to pursue justice and accountability from the individuals who harmed them, and in some cases, institutions that protected the perpetrators. PCAR supports a one-time two-year window of opportunity for those survivors previously blocked from seeking civil damages.

This is a recommendation made in four Grand Jury reports* relating to child sexual abuse cases, supported by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and reinforced repeatedly in the news as case after case of child sexual abuse surface. Many, including a recent report detailing abuse at The Solebury School, date back decades.

It is time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to restore the rights of all survivors who have been denied justice by inappropriate time limits to seek civil remedies.

Sexual violence is a public health epidemic.

Child sexual abuse can leave a permanent and traumatic mark on a person’s life – many survivors experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and problems with drugs and alcohol. These conditions can deter education, job retention and physical health, and ultimately create financial burdens on victims, families, employers and communities.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study found more than 20 percent of children were victims of sexual abuse that involved direct touching or penetration. Indirect costs to society as a result of child abuse and neglect include costs associated with increased use of our health-care system.

It is common for most victims to struggle for decades before making the connection between childhood abuse and the addictions, self-harming behaviors, and depression they often experience. Presently, their access to justice is denied because the statute of limitations to seek civil remedies has expired.

Pennsylvania is behind the curve on Statutes of Limitations reform in civil cases

Eight states have no statutes of limitations for civil child sexual abuse cases (varying charges qualify). Seven states have enacted window legislation, most commonly a two-year period, to allow victims previously barred from filing civil suits an opportunity in which they could file.

*(Anna Salter, Ph.D. Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists & Other Sex Offenders, 2003 Basic Books. Chapter 4 Child Molesters)