Statute of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse
Typically, a statute of limitations is put in place to limit when legal action can be taken against someone after a crime has been committed. Although this is designed to prevent people from filing lawsuits many years after damages have occurred, it is obviously much more difficult to enforce when someone had a crime committed against them when they were a child. For this reason, the state of limitations are subject to a number of changes with regards to child sexual abuse. In addition to limiting the statue of limitations from taking effect while the victim is a minor, many states have also implemented their own additional limitations or extensions based on a variety of circumstances. If you or someone you know has suffered from child abuse, then you should contact Charleston personal injury attorneys immediately to see how your case might be affected. Otherwise, this guide will aim to look at how the statue of limitations is altered in child abuse cases based on a variety of criteria.
The Difference Between Civil and Criminal
It’s important to note that the statute of limitations in cases involving children can differ based on whether you’re filing a civil lawsuit or a criminal charge. The criminal statute of limitations on child sexual abuse depend on what type of abuse occurred, and whether it qualifies as a Class A felony. Child sexual abuse is considered to be a Class A felony when threat of force is used, when first degree sexual assault occurs with a minor that is more than two years younger than the offender, first degree aggravated sexual assault with a minor who is under the age of 16, and aggravated sexual assault of a minor. Under any of these circumstances, there is no statute of limitations and these crimes can be charged at any time.
By contrast, the civil statute of limitations is lengthier than for most offenses, but still finite. Depending on the state, the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases is roughly 30 years after the victim has turned 18. This allows for a period of discovery, since many times these types of crimes end up being repressed in a person’s memories. Given the difficulty of processing these events, or even properly understanding them for a victim who was particularly young, the statue of limitations has understandably been extended by many states. Of course, each state has its own laws pertaining to further extensions that a victim might qualify for.
Statute of Limitations in West Virginia
Throughout the country, most states have additional laws that provide support to children who have been the victim of a sexual assault. This includes not starting the statute of limitations until they’ve reached adulthood, or in some cases, waiting to begin the statute until they’ve “discovered” repressed memories of the assault, such as through therapy.
In West Virginia, the burden proof, in regards to the statute of limitations, lies mainly with the victim. The victim must prove that they were prevented from being able to properly report the injury, whether it was the result of fraud on the part of the perpetrator, a genuine inability to understand what was occurring, or due to some other difficulty that would have otherwise made it impossible to report. It should also be noted that in West Virginia, the aforementioned discovery rule can not be used to prevent the statute of limitations from stopping after 20 years. Although these rules may make it seem more difficult to pursue a sexual assault claim in West Virginia, it really just means that you should put your case in the hands of Charleston personal injury attorneys that you are confident you can trust.
DNA and Other Evidence
In addition to the statute of limitations that are outlined by the states, there is another complication in the form of DNA evidence. If the victim is able to report a crime within five years of its occurrence, and then is able to provide DNA evidence of the perpetrator, then there is no statute of limitations for further actions. As far as specific types of crimes are concerned, this rule applies to practically any form of sexual assault, including first-degree sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault in a spousal relationship, and both second and third-degree sexual assaults as well.
Due to complications in the way in which amendments to the statute of limitations are passed, it is currently difficult to prosecute charges for sexual assault crimes that occurred after the 20 year limit from when the law was first passed. Of course, this can also change depending on the circumstances to a specific case, which is why contacting an attorney is important. They can work through the legal nuances that might apply to your suit and ensure that you get a fair shot at justice.
Steps to Take for Your Case
Although there are many rules and regulations that can alter the statute of limitations for a child sexual abuse case, the most important thing to keep in mind is that a statute of limitations does exist. This means that you can potentially miss the opportunity to receive compensation for your past injuries if you take too long to act. If you think that you or someone you know may have been the victim of sexual assault as a child, then the first step you should take is to report it to the authorities. The second person you should contact is your lawyer, as they can provide you with further guidance and ensure that you take all of the proper steps as you come to them.
It’s worth noting that if you suspect someone has been sexually abusing a child, many states require you to contact the authorities. While some states specifically note that professionals who work with children must act on this information, many states stipulate that anyone who thinks it might be occurring must report it. In addition, there are also a number of organizations that exist throughout the country that are specifically designed to help those who have been the victim of a sexual assault as a child. Child advocacy centers can help children get into contact with professionals who can help them deal with their situation.
Even if you’re not sure if your state requires you to report sexual abuse, it’s worth it to be proactive in these types of situations. Furthermore, if you or someone you know has recently discovered a past trauma, then it is similarly worth reporting. Even if you think you might have grown past it, or that it’s not worth revisiting the painful memories, reporting these crimes is about more than that, and it’s necessary for the protection of those who would otherwise be defenseless.
Contact the Law Office of Freeman & Chiartas today, for further questions and concerns on this case.