By Robert E. Pastor
It can take decades for survivors of child sexual abuse to share their secret and break the silence. Arizona law now recognizes that victims of sexual abuse need time to process and understand what happened to them.
Adults who have suffered child sexual abuse may experience a variety of symptoms throughout their lives or in chronic episodes. Survivors of sexual abuse often suffer deep seeded shame, guilt and self-blame that often leads to depression and anxiety. Survivors of abuse may develop a belief that they caused the sexual abuse or that they deserved the abuse. No child causes or deserves to be sexually abused. These beliefs may lead to self-destructing or sabotaging relationships. As children and as adults, survivors of sexual abuse may experience intrusive or recurring thoughts, nightmares or even flashbacks about the abuse. Research conclusively shows people with a history of childhood sexual abuse have an increased risk of major depression, suicide attempt, alcohol or drug dependence, social anxiety, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, rape after the age of 18 and divorce throughout their lives.
Elliot Nelson et al., Association Between Self-Reported Childhood Sexual Abuse and Adverse Psychosocial Outcomes: Results from a Twin Study, 59 Archives of General Psychiatry, 139, 139-145 (2002). Studies also show child sexual abuse can lead to sexual dysfunctions, sexual compulsion, confusion and struggles over gender and sexual identity, homophobia, problems with intimacy, guilt, self-blame, low self-esteem, negative self-images, and increased anger. David Lisak, The Psychological Impact of Sexual Abuse: Content Analysis of Interviews with Male Survivors, 7 J. Of Traumatic Stress, 525, 525-544 (1994).
The complexities surrounding child sexual abuse and the trauma that victims endure is just one reason why Arizona changed the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse.
A statute of limitations is like a legal stopwatch that counts down the time to file criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. There are often different statutes of limitations for different types of cases. It is important to know when the clock starts ticking, when the clock stops ticking and whether anything restarts the clock. The new law in Arizona gives victims of child sexual abuse more time to take legal action and for some victims, it restarts the clock – but for a limited time.
The new law now gives victims until age 30 to file civil suits; an additional 12 years.
The new law also restarts the statute of limitations clock for victims of child sexual abuse. Under the new law, victims of child sexual abuse have until December 31, 2020. It does not matter how long it has been or how old a victim is, under the new law, victims of child sexual abuse can take back their voice and seek the justice they deserve.
By taking action against perpetrators and the institutions that covered for them, victims can expose perpetrators and expose the cover up. Civil actions will also protect other children because these institutions now know that they are not above the law.
Robert E. Pastor is an attorney with the law firm of Montoya, Lucero & Pastor, PA. Mr. Pastor has been representing and advocating for victims of child sexual abuse and sexual assault for more than sixteen years. He understands the needs of survivors of sexual abuse and the importance of exposing the truth for his clients and for the safety of all our children.