Child sexual predators exist everywhere. They harm children from all demographics and shatter families from all socio-economic statuses. It often takes years for victims to come forward and bring their accusers to justice. Like most reasonable people, we understand this reality. And that is why a criminal statute of limitations does not exist in New Jersey, and is not in question.
What today’s legislation addresses is the ability of victims to sue for damages. The civil statute of limitations is a time limit on cases brought by accusers seeking monetary damages from sex abuses or their employers for the abuses they have suffered. The statute of limitations on these efforts is currently two years from the time a person realizes that they have been injured by sexual abuse, not from the act itself. Advocates maintain that this window is not long enough.
Senator Paul Sarlo and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald agree. They have introduced legislation known as the Child Protection Act of 2012, which would bring the civil statute of limitations to 10 years from the time a victim realizes they have been abused instead of the 2 years currently on the books in New Jersey. And it would hold their employers and supervisors accountable from this point forward.
Unfortunately, that is not the legislation that the Senate will be voting on today. Today’s legislation, S-1651, would completely eliminate the civil statute of limitations in all sex abuse cases. And it would be applied retroactively, leaving all current board members and officials vulnerable to claims which may or may not have occurred decades ago. And unlike criminal trials, the burden of proof is much lower in civil cases, so mounting any sort of defense is likely in vain. The most damning cases would undoubtedly be the ones involving public schools and municipalities, because ultimately, it’s the taxpayer’s dime that will be used to settle claims.
Today’s legislation is well-intentioned. But it takes a step beyond what is rational under the American judicial system. Child sex abuse victims experience society at its worst. They shouldn’t have to carry the financial burdens of therapy as they move forward; it is the responsibility of the perpetrator and those who have failed the child. But the legislation being considered today swings too far in the opposite direction. New Jersey’s honest charities, volunteers, and taxpayers will be left exposed to a plethora of indefinite, unintended consequences and opportunities for the dishonest to take advantage of the law’s newly-expanded liabilities. And it’s an expense all of us will bear.