To the Editor:
Holding those who commit child sexual abuse accountable for their actions — along with the powerful institutions that enable abusers — is made more challenging because survivors have a time limit on seeking complete justice for pain, suffering and trauma caused to them.
I have a constituent whom a Catholic priest sexually abused as a child. For months, I worked with her and other survivors to build a coalition of legislators and survivors to reform the civil statute of limitations (SOL) in Connecticut, which is currently the 51st birthday of victims of childhood sexual abuse.
The sought-after reform, which was elimination of the civil SOL, did not come to fruition.
Legislators — including myself — seldom fail to communicate successes. Whether it is money for schools, bond funds to improve a park, helping homeowners with crumbling foundations, the sound from the trumpet can split someone’s ears when we tout some of these moments. However, we do not often share the stories of hard work that failed to bring about meaningful legislative change, which has a hefty toll, especially when it concerns something as traumatic as child sexual abuse.
Maybe introspection is needed to pass the necessary legislation, which is moving along incrementally toward where it needs to be.
In Connecticut, the General Assembly has sensitively handled civil SOL reform related to childhood sexual abuse. That includes prospectively expanding the civil SOL in 2019 so future victims could access the courts to seek justice through civil litigation, and predators would be held accountable for their actions. However, the outright elimination of the civil SOL for sexual assault would allow victims more time to hold institutions responsible, like the Catholic church, for the abuse they endured as children.
Several states have eliminated civil SOL for child sex abuse crimes during the last few years, including Vermont, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, and Nevada. Momentum for the complete repeal is building across the country. Connecticut needs to build upon its 2019 progress and join this movement.
In 2021, four states repealed the civil SOL for child sexual abuse cases, and several more states opened “look back” windows to revive expired opportunities for corrective action. The potential unintended consequences such as bankrupt municipalities or waves of small nonprofits or religious institutions being put out of business by a flood of civil child sexual abuse claims turned out to be lobbyist fearmongering. The Office of Legislative Research could not find evidence of those things happening due to civil SOL reform and repeal. The actual cost continues to be borne by the victims of child sexual abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average cost for a victim of abuse is a staggering $830,000 during an individual’s lifetime.
It is easy to make promises not to give up, and that next year, the coalition we built will be even stronger when we try to make this reform a reality. But, promising to continue the journey to justice for victims is the least we can do for them.
There are too many stories of children enduring abuse, which scars and shapes the rest of their lives. Institutions that enable abuse do not eventually lead victims down a compassionate path where empathy and action wait for them at the end of it. Unfortunately, institutional roadblocks are more common.
According to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the average age for someone sexually abused as a child to disclose it is 52 years old.
Every year, I will work to pass this legislation until survivors get access to civil justice without deadlines and grossly negligent institutions are held accountable for their enabling actions. I will take any failure personally and rejoice in none of the success upon passage.
There are so many institutions that have let child sexual abuse survivors down. The General Assembly needs to take care of people who survive unspeakable abuse and come forward bravely at a time of their choosing, not within a constructed timeline.
State Rep. Geoff Luxenberg
Luxenberg, a Democrat, represents Connecticut’s 12th District