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Michigan’s Statute of Limitations on Child Sex Abuse Is Being Reevaluated by Legislators

Michigan’s Statute of Limitations on Child Sex Abuse Is Being Reevaluated by Legislators

Proposed Changes Could Make It Easier for Survivors to Receive Justice.

In a previous article, we explained a long-held legal standard known as the statute of limitations, a strictly defined period of time after which many crimes can no longer be prosecuted. You can think of it as something like an “expiration date” for the filing of lawsuits or criminal charges against a potential defendant. Once the statute of limitations has expired, the perpetrator essentially gets off without being held legally accountable. 

While this may be frustrating for law enforcement officers and crime victims alike, the statute of limitations exists for very good reasons. Because, as time passes, witnesses often become unavailable, unreliable, or even die; furthermore, any evidence of the crime in question often becomes less fresh and possibly less accurate. Which means that – with the passage of time – the ability of prosecutors to prove a particular crime was committed “beyond a reasonable doubt” becomes less likely.

For many crimes, the statute of limitations encompasses a fairly limited period – sometimes as short as only a few years. For example, victims of libel or slander in Michigan must file suit within just a year after that alleged crime, or they forever lose their ability to sue. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s no statute of limitations at all for murder, terrorism, rape, and many other serious felonies in Michigan. But sadly the victims of many forms of childhood sexual abuse — people who often mentally block out the crime or were simply too young to recognize the assault when it happened — generally had only 10 years (or until they reached the age of 21, whichever was later) to report their abusers to law enforcement authorities,(though in 2018 Michigan victims of child sexual abuse received an extension to 15 years).

Circumstances for Survivors May Be Changing for the Better

Even the recently extended Michigan statute may be about to change. Because now the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against underage victims in Michigan is getting careful legislative reexamination following the widely publicized cases of such high-profile criminals as Dr. Larry Nassar (the shamed former physician to the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team) and Dr. Robert Anderson (the late University of Michigan physician accused of sexually abusing more than a thousand students over a period of several decades).

Recently introduced legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives aims to make it possible for citizens who were survivors of childhood sex crimes to file criminal charges and open civil lawsuits against their abusers many years – possibly even decades – after the crimes took place. Specifically, the proposed law would extend the sexual abuse statute of limitation for civil suits to the longest of three possible timelines defined by the following criteria:

  1. “10 years after the time the claim accrues” or
  2. When “the individual (victim) reaches the age of 48 years” or
  3. “Seven years after the date the individual (victim) discovers, or through the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, both the individual’s injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the criminal sexual conduct.”

This represents a significant expansion of the present statute of limitations period for child sex abuse crimes, which under current law makes it impossible for people who were abused as minors to file charges after reaching the age of 28. Justification for the suggested change relates to some chilling statistics published by ChildUSA. This non-profit organization’s research states that the average age when victims of child sexual abuse publicly disclose their experience is 52 years old – suggesting that extending the statute of limitations to age 48 will help many more victims be able to bring their abusers to justice. Notably, the proposed new law would also make it possible for survivors to file civil lawsuits against convicted sex abusers without any limitation period. Specifically, the legislation currently under consideration by the Michigan House of Representatives reads as follows:

“An action to recover damages sustained because of criminal sexual conduct may be brought at any time without limitation if there is a criminal prosecution brought as a result of the conduct that results in a conviction for criminal sexual conduct.”

In an unusual move, the proposed legislation also acts retroactively. It grants all survivors of sexual abuse a two-year grace period Immediately after the law is amended to file any claims that we previously barred under the previous statute of limitation. This means that even if you were sexually abused or assaulted in the 1940s or 1950s, you would be allowed to file a lawsuit for the damages caused by that misconduct for the two years after the amendment took effect.  

Important to note is that this legislation – which is highly positive for abuse survivors – has still not been approved. It must first pass the state House and then the state Senate (and finally be signed into law by Governor Whitmer) before it can become enforceable and improve the lives of untold numbers of child sexual abuse survivors. We urge you to contact your Michigan House legislator (and to get in touch with your state senator as well) to offer your thoughts and feelings on the matter. Without sufficient citizen support for this proposal, it could fail to be passed this year. In the meantime, if you or someone you love have ever been sexually assaulted or experienced workplace harassment in Michigan, we stand ready to do whatever we can to help seek compensation that can aid in the healing process. Call us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or use the contact form on our website to get in touch with a sensitive, caring attorney at our firm.