HAWAII PASSES LAW TO PROTECT RIGHTS OF CHILD SEX ABUSE SURVIVORS

by Adam Horowitz

In a massive victory for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a pair of bills on June 20, 2014. The first bill lengthens the amount of time victims of child sex abuse have to file civil lawsuits. The legislature created a “window” through April 2016 in which survivors of sexual abuse in Hawaii will not be able to use the statute of limitations as a defense. A second bill permanently removes the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of sexual assault of a child or abuse in the first and second degrees.

Under the “window” created for civil lawsuits, abuse survivors may now bring claims against not only the person who committed the acts of sexual abuse, but also the entities and employers responsible for supervising the perpetrator.  Thus, for example, a claim from the 1980’s against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu based on abuse by one its priests, which was previously barred by the statute of limitations, can now be filed as a civil lawsuit without any statute of limitations defense. The same is true for abuse cases against youth groups, scouting organizations, religious orders, public and private schools, and daycares, among countless others organizations.

This is the second time Hawaii has enacted such a window. This time, however, the law allows survivors of sexual abuse to obtain justice if their perpetrator was employed by the state of Hawaii or any of its political subdivisions. Thus, for example, survivors of sexual abuse in public schools now have the rights to obtain equal justice in the civil courts.

The policy reasons underlying an extension of the statute of limitations are plentiful and far too many for a single blog.  But plain and simple it is exceptionally difficult for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to process what occurred and file a lawsuit in the short amount of time required by the statute of limitations in most states.  For a child, sexual abuse is often confusing, embarrassing, private, and hurtful to disclose, particularly if the perpetrator was in a position of trust or authority.  Given these multitude of factors, it is often not until late in life that survivors are able to process their abuse, disclose what occurred, and “connect the dots” between their childhood abuse and the horrific injuries that ensued. As such, the current statute of limitations favors perpetrators and their enablers to the detriment of the abuse survivors. For these reasons and many others, window legislation such as the one passed in Hawaii is necessary to (1) protect the right of survivors of the most heinous acts of abuse; and (2) expose the predators and hold them accountable.

The State of Hawaii should be commended for this remarkable legislation!

Our attorneys are experienced in representing survivors of child sexual abuse in civil lawsuits filed in Hawaii. If you or someone you know was a victim of child sexual abuse in Hawaii, please contact our law firm at (954) 524-2820 or send an email to sexual abuse attorney Adam Horowitz at [email protected].

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