The Road to Justice: Holding Abusers Accountable
Over the last several years, the media has reported on numerous child sexual abuse claims and trials. Frequently, the cases center on abuses that occurred years, even decades before.
Yet, despite a significant increase in the number of people reporting cases, coverage of high-profile cases, and the #MeToo movement, most of those who report abuse will not see their perpetrator go to jail or prison. For example, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) estimate that out of every 1000 sexual assaults, only five of the perpetrators will be incarcerated for the crime.
Survivors Face Many Obstacles To Healing and Justice
Survivors are often judged and maligned for not coming forward earlier, even though science tells us that it can take years to process the trauma of sexual violence. People dismiss them as grandstanding, trying to ruin the reputation of their abuser, or having faulty memories.
The barriers to going public about childhood sexual abuse are real and can be challenging to overcome. In addition, reporting sexual abuse is a personal decision. Some survivors may decide that reporting the abuse isn’t the right decision for them. However, it may be a crucial step in the healing process for others.
Benefits of Reporting Abuse
- Promotes Catharsis and Healing
Coming forward and facing their abuser can be healing for some survivors. For some survivors, telling the world of the abuse proves cathartic. However, each survivor should determine if and when they feel comfortable.
- Increases Access to Resources
In some cases, reporting abuse can mean that survivors will receive referrals for support and therapeutic resources they may not have known were available to them. Access to treatment can be a critical part of healing.
- Encourages Others To Report
Other people may be encouraged to report their abuse when they hear your story. In many recent cases in the media, once one or two people came forward, others were emboldened, making the case against the perpetrator much stronger.
- Decreases Reoffending
Many perpetrators rely on grooming techniques to gain access to those they abuse. Identifying them makes it more difficult for them to go undetected, which may prevent future offending.
Legal Obstacles to Justice
In addition to being harshly criticized for delaying their response, the statute of limitations on sex crimes often expires before victims can address what happened to them or can bring themselves to come forward and identify their abusers, impeding the paths to justice.
According to 18 U.S. Code § 2255, survivors of childhood sexual abuse currently have ten years to file a civil lawsuit in federal court from the date the crime occurred or until their 18th birthday.
Yet, research data provided by CHILD USA, the National Think Tank for Child Protection, indicates that the average age a survivor of childhood sexual abuse discloses the crime is 52.
In recent years, many states have amended their child sex abuse laws to expand or eliminate statutes of limitations. However, current federal statutes of limitations remain in place. Under the civil remedy statute, several obstacles to justice for survivors of childhood sexual abuse continue, despite no statute of limitations barring criminal prosecutions for such offenses.
In 2018, congress extended the statute of limitations for federal child sex abuse civil claims, allowing survivors to file a lawsuit up to age 28 (or ten years from the date of the crime or discovery of an injury resulting from the abuse). However, the extension fails to reflect research on delayed disclosure in childhood survivors.
More recently, in 2021, Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn and Illinois Democrat Senator Dick Durbin introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that survivors of childhood sexual abuse can seek justice through civil lawsuits without being barred by statutes of limitations. As a result, the federal civil remedy statute, 18 U.S. Code § 2255, also known as the Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act of 2021, passed the Senate and will now move to the House.
The proposed bill would enable survivors of over a dozen childhood sex crimes to seek damages through civil lawsuits in federal court, regardless of when the offense occurred.
The Decision Is Yours
Whether you decide to report your experience to law enforcement and pursue legal action is your choice and one no one should pressure you to make. But don’t suffer in silence. EndCAN offers valuable resources and community to help you heal.
Many survivors of child sexual abuse find that simply sharing their experiences helps them heal. It also helps others realize they’re not alone. So, when you’re ready, share your story on EndCAN’s website and join the many survivors who contributed their voices to our mission.
EndCAN’s survivor community support group, Louder Than Silence, through Inspire, is a free, online community of support groups where people can feel safe, be authentic while anonymously sharing their experiences, and learn from other people who have “been there.”