Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo held a ceremonial signing of legislation that that amends the state’s civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse on Monday. In attendance were Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), who sponsored the legislation (H5171B/S0315Aaa).

More specifically, 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.

“Abuse can’t be tolerated, won’t be tolerated and can’t be tolerated,” said Governor Raimondo. “And when it happens, we need to know that we have a fair justice system, and a fair set of laws, so that victims can come forward and seek justice.”

“It is unfortunate that this bill is needed in our society because it signals that not only are our children being sexually victimized, 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,” said Representative McEntee. “It is for this reason that we need to significantly extend the statute of limitations on civil actions relating to sexual abuse.”

“Childhood sexual abuse is a scourge on our society, nationally and here in Rhode Island,” said Senator Nesselbush. “Today, passage of this legislation significantly moves the needle forward for these brave victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Today, Rhode Island has opened the courthouse doors by significantly extending the statute of limitations. Access to justice is a cornerstone of American jurisprudence, and today we have provided that for countless survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Bravo.”

The legislation extends 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.

Dr Amy Hagan Webb

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 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 McEntee and Senator Nesselbush.

[From a press release]

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