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Sen. committee held public hearing to expand statute of limitations for child sex abuse

“Only about 1.5 percent of survivors of child sex assault ever receive justice from the criminal justice system,” Sen. Merika Coleman said.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary committee held a public hearing on a bill that would expand the statute of limitations for certain sex offenses.

The bill, SB127, is sponsored by Sen. Merika Coleman. Coleman brought the bill to provide more assistance to survivors of child sex abuse specifically. Coleman stated the statute of limitations needed to be expanded because most survivors of child sex abuse come forward when they are 52 years old. 

“Only about 1.5 percent of survivors of child sex assault ever receive justice from the criminal justice system,” Coleman said. “The average age at which a survivor of child sex abuse comes forward is actually the age of 52,” Coleman said. “And that’s why because of the age most of these survivors come forward SB127 expands the statute of limitations for child sex survivors.”

Under existing law a lawsuit for an injury to an individual incurred because of a sex offense must be brought within six years of a victim turning 19. So, if a civil action is not filed by the age of 25 survivors no longer have legal recourse against perpetrators. Coleman’s bill would raise the limit from 6 years to 36 years giving victims up until the age of 55 to file a lawsuit.

Two individuals spoke in support of the bill during the hearing including Stuart Vance, who was 16 at the time of his sexual assault by a teacher. Vance, 59, revealed that after years of keeping his trauma hidden due to fear and embarrassment, finally told his story in 2018. 

Vance asked how individuals in their 20s could actually take on their abuser due to power imbalances. 

“What person in their early 20s has the emotional and financial means to take on an abuser,” Vance said. “An abuser who is likely many years their senior and often a respected member of the community and substantially well off financially.”

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Vance also called out the insurance industry for insuring churches, the Boy Scouts, and other organizations that often protected those guilty of sexually abusing children.

The bill was set for just a public hearing and not a vote according to Sen. Will Barfoot, chairperson of the committee. Several Democratic members of the committee asked Barfoot if they could go ahead and vote on the bill. However, Barfoot maintained that no vote would be held on the bill yet. 

The members also mentioned that there is an individual or individuals holding up the bill who were unknown at the time of the hearing.

The bill will be back on the agenda during next week’s committee meeting.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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