House Passes Pared down Version Of Sexual Abuse Bill

WCCO [St Paul MN]
May 13, 2003

St. Paul (AP) The House approved a bill 126-4 Tuesday that would give victims of childhood sexual abuse slightly more time to sue their abusers.

The issue has taken on new urgency in recent years as clergy abuse scandals unfold across the country. But this is the first time such legislation has made it through the House and Senate.

The House proposal would allow people who report such abuse to police as children up to nine years after turning 18 to file a civil lawsuit. People who report childhood abuse after turning 18 would have five years to sue.

No one over the age of 27 would be able to seek monetary damages unless DNA evidence in the case had been collected and preserved, in which case, there would be no time limit to sue.

The proposal now must be reconciled with a Senate bill that would give victims up to six years to sue from whenever they became aware of an injury from the abuse -- no matter what their age.

Minnesota law now gives childhood sexual abuse victims up to the age of 24 to sue.

Supporters of changing the law said it often takes years for victims to recall abuse and realize they've been damaged from it. Critics counter that setting no upper time limit for lawsuits would leave schools, churches or daycare centers vulnerable to lawsuits for abuse that allegedly took place decades ago.

While the House bill would cut off most victims' ability to seek financial damages at the age of 27, it would allow them to ask the court to review the evidence and issue an opinion on whether the abuse occurred.

If the court found in favor of the plaintiff, he or she could recover attorneys fees and some other costs associated with the case. However, if the alleged abuser confessed within 60 days of the complaint being filed, the plaintiff couldn't recover attorneys fees.

"We want the perpetrator to come forward and admit the abuse so that the healing process can start," said Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria.

Even after the confession, criminal prosecution would be unlikely because the statute of limitations would have run out.

The two bills now will need to be reconciled in a joint conference committee.

Survivors of sexual abuse gathered at the Capitol to voice their support for the Senate provisions.

"The Senate version is the correct version," said Michael Wegs, spokesman for Survivors Network Minnesota, the local chapter of a national group of victims of clergy abuse. "Unfortunately, in our society, the only way you can punish someone is to hit them in the pocketbook."

Bev Peterson, a 41-year-old St. Paul woman who said she was raped by a priest when she was 13, said the House bill wouldn't solve anything.

"We're begging for the House to step forward and do the right thing," she said. "Changing it by two to three years is not enough."


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