Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett)’s legislation (H5171B), that amends the state’s civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, was passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly tonight. The bill was sent to the governor’s desk for consideration.

The legislation extends the statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse claims to 35 years. Currently, the statute of limitations is seven years in Rhode Island.

“It is unfortunate that this bill is needed in our society because it signals that not only are our children being sexually victimized,” said Hagan McEntee, “but even more sadly, many of these victims will never have their day in court to face their abusers and demand accountability for the vicious childhood assaults that have haunted their lives – often times for decades. It is for this reason that we need to significantly extend the statute of limitations on civil actions relating to sexual abuse.”

The bill seemed in peril late last week when the Senate passed a version slightly different than the one passed in the House. At a press conference, Representative Hagan McEntee called the Senate bill “a very watered down version that I will not support, and neither will the victims.”

Today the Senate sponsor of the bill, Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), announced in a press conference that she had reached a compromise with Senate leadership that preserved the best features of both bills. H5171B was quickly passed out of Senate Judiciary, then off the Senate and House floors in rapid succession.

Donna Nesselbush press conference

The bill would extend the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse from seven years to 35 years. The legislation would also extend to 35 years the statute of limitations for entities, individuals or organizations which caused or contributed to childhood sexual abuse through negligent supervision, conduct, concealment or other factors that enabled the abuse to occur. The State of Rhode Island and its municipalities are also included under this provision of the legislation.

The 35 year statute begins at the age of 18 for the victims.

The bill also includes a “seven year discovery rule” which enables victims of sex abuse to file suit against perpetrators and non-perpetrators up to seven years from the time a victim discovered or remembered abuse had taken place, such as through therapy as an adult.

Representative McEntee introduced this bill due to her own personal family connection to childhood sexual abuse. Last session and this session, Representative McEntee has accompanied her older sister, Dr Ann Hagan Webb, to testify in favor of the legislation. Representative McEntee has referred to the legislation as “Annie’s Bill” due to her sister’s advocacy for the bill.

Dr Webb recounted her own experiences being a young survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the family parish priest. Representative Hagan McEntee’s sister, now a psychologist specializing in counseling adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, detailed how often it takes years, if not decades, for victims of childhood sexual assault to not only come to terms with their abuse, but also to find the strength to come forward, to name their abuser, and seek justice for the crimes perpetrated against their innocence and youth.

Dr Webb also explained that because of the complex and often long healing process in regards to these crimes, many abusers are not only never charged criminally, but they also are shielded by statutes of limitations from having to answer for their crimes in a civil manner.

“Victims of childhood sexual abuse deserve justice and by passing this legislation, these brave people who have the courage to confront their victimizers will have a chance at justice for the crimes committed against them as children,” concluded Representative Hagan McEntee and Senator Nesselbush.

[From a press release]