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Victoria Steele: Arizona lawmakers should give victims of child sexual abuse more time to file civil suits

Victoria Steele: Arizona lawmakers should give victims of child sexual abuse more time to file civil suits

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In America, a child becomes the victim of sexual abuse every eight minutes.

I was one of those victims. By age 12, I knew that my purpose in life was to remember what was happening to me so I could work to protect other children from experiencing what I was going through.

That is why I am fighting with all my might to expand the statute of limitations for civil suits against child rapists — because I do remember and because, without us, the children have no voice.

In Arizona, a child rapist can be criminally prosecuted at any time, but these cases are tough to prosecute because children don’t know how to gather forensic evidence or file a police report, and pedophiles often threaten children into silence. That’s why it is so important to have civil recourse.

Arizona, however, has the shortest statute of limitations in the nation. Victims of child rape have only until age 20 to file a civil suit unless their abuser is criminally charged, in which case they have one year after the case’s final disposition. The day they turn 21, that door is shut forever. That is a problem because the average age of disclosure is 52, according to Child USA.

State Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, introduced a bill that gives victims seven years to bring a lawsuit, starting from the time they disclose the assault to a licensed medical or mental-health professional.

GOP leadership in the Legislature, backed by the powerful insurance lobby, has refused to bring Boyer’s bill to a vote and instead has introduced a bill that is very restrictive. It gives victims until age 30 to file a civil suit, which sounds better, but that’s still not enough time given that most people don’t report until after age 30.

There are countless reasons why survivors of child sexual abuse wait to come forward. Most frequently they fear being shamed and not being believed.

When someone does files a civil suit, it often shines a light on serial perpetrators and those who enable them.

If USA Gymnastics and Michigan State officials had listened when the first victims of Dr. Larry Nassar spoke up, the other nearly 500 known victims might never have been harmed.

Institutions that cover up abuse or fail to take action are just as culpable as the abuser, because they allow the abuse to continue and they give perpetrators continued access to children.

Sadly, the only motivating factor that brings about change in these institutions is being held financially responsible for their actions and failing to act once a victim discloses abuse.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can tell you that silence is the one thing that allows this hideous crime to continue.

Under the cloak of silence, predators know they not only are able to continue to abuse one child, they are free to prey on many others without repercussions.

Arizona should be giving survivors every possible chance to call out their perpetrators and not set arbitrary deadlines. Efforts to protect institutions such as churches, universities, group homes, youth organizations and others only serve to enable predators.

Arizona’s statute of limitations law for child sex abuse is one of the worst because it protects child rapists.

This is not the time for half-measures. We have the opportunity to fix this problem and it should be an easy decision. We are the voice for the children.

Victoria Steele, a Democrat, represents Legislative District 9 (Tucson) in the Arizona Senate.

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