A new law in Arkansas provides survivors of childhood sexual abuse a new opportunity to take civil action against an abuser or organization responsible for abuse. This is significant news for child sexual abuse victims whose cases were once considered expired due to state statutes of limitations.
While some aspects of this law will remain permanent, there are parts that are temporary and allow a limited time for legal action. The two-year revival window for filing sexual abuse claims is only open between February 1, 2022 and January 31, 2024. To learn more about this important legislative step, please reach out to an attorney from McMath Woods P.A. who represents survivors of sexual abuse in the state of Arkansas.
What Senate Bill 676 Means for Sexual Abuse Survivors in Arkansas
On April 30, 2021, SB676 was passed by members of the Arkansas Senate. This Senate Bill, known as the Justice for Vulnerable Victims of Sexual Abuse Act, benefits victims of sexual abuse who were minors (under the age of 18) at the time of the abuse. It also applies to disabled sexual abuse victims, meaning that the abuse victim was considered legally or medically disabled at the time of abuse and therefore unable to give consent. The term “Vulnerable Victims” in the title of the Act refers to individuals who were under 18, disabled, or both at the time the abuse occurred.
There are two primary benefits that this law provides: an extended statute of limitations and a two-year revival window. While the amendments to the Arkansas statute of limitations for taking civil action after sexual abuse will remain in effect, the revival window will close at the end of two years.
Extended Statute of Limitations
Under prior AR law, a childhood sexual abuse victim had only until their 21st birthday, or three years from discovering an emotional or physical injury was the result of abuse, to take legal action. The new law extends the age cap from 21 to 55. Under the provisions of SB676, victims aged 21 as of July 31, 2021, and any future abuse victims, will have until they are 55 years old (or 3 years from discovery, whichever date is later) to take legal action against an abuser.
These deadlines for filing a legal claim are referred to as statutes of limitations. A statute of limitations (SOL) determines how much time an individual has after an event to begin legal processes. The statutes of limitations for child sex abuse cases have been frequently criticized and cited as needing reform, for several reasons which will be discussed in brief below.
Two-Year Revival Window
Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred, can file a civil claim during the two-year revival window. This window begins February 1, 2022 and ends January 31, 2024. During this time period, any adult survivor can choose to take civil action against the individual abuser or responsible institution, even if their claim was expired under the prior state law.
Depending on the circumstances, a survivor of abuse may be entitled to file a civil claim against an abuser, another involved individual, or the organization or institute complicit in the abuse or coverup of abuse. Those who were victimized by an abuser may not be aware of the scope of the abuse. It’s not uncommon for childhood sexual abuse survivors, after beginning legal proceedings against an abuser, to discover that they were not the only victim. A high percentage of sexual predators abuse not one vulnerable victim, but many. Taking legal action can help expose the extent of the abuse and the modes by which it was concealed or dismissed by an organization.
Revival Windows in Other States
Arkansas is not the first state to enact a revival window for childhood sexual abuse claims. Twenty other states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have passed legislation opening some form of a revival window for abuse survivors. Connecticut was one of the earliest states to revive previously-expired sex abuse claims in 2002, increasing the age cap for childhood sexual abuse claims to 48 years of age.
Revised legislation in many states has aimed to extended statutes of limitations and open windows for expired claims to be filed. Revival windows have generally been opened on a one, two, or three year-basis, or permanently. In 2018, Michigan opened a 90-day window for victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by Michigan State University gymnastics coach Larry Nassar to retroactively file lawsuits.
As has been mentioned, many state legislators have recognized the need for reform when it comes to statutes of limitations on sexual abuse claims. An important element that sets childhood sex abuse cases apart from other types of personal injury cases is the phenomenon known as delayed disclosure.
In the rare instances in which child sex abuse is reported—compared to the estimated 86% of cases that aren’t reported at all—disclosure often comes years or even decades after the event. Even if a child overcomes the significant roadblocks to disclosure, they are much more likely to confide in a peer rather than a parent or guardian. And even if an adult becomes aware of the abuse, there is no guarantee that the information will make its way to the proper authorities. Finally, there is a still smaller chance that a vulnerable victim of sexual abuse will take civil action to hold the abuser accountable for the damage caused.
Laws regarding statutes of limitations and revival windows in Arkansas and other states work to increase the opportunity for abuse survivors to seek justice through civil law.
Filing a Sexual Abuse Lawsuit in Arkansas
Vulnerable victims of sexual abuse in Arkansas have legal options. Nothing can change the actions of an abuser and the permanent impact those actions had on the victim’s life. But through civil law, sex abuse survivors can work toward healing by holding a perpetrator accountable for the harm they caused.
The law office of McMath Woods P.A. advocates for sex abuse survivors in Arkansas. We are currently representing and seeking compensation for vulnerable victims who are taking legal action during the two-year revival window. We offer confidential and compassionate legal guidance, and we never charge a fee for a consultation to discuss your legal options. Reach out to our office to discuss how we may be able to help you or a loved one.