Childhood victims of sexual abuse would no longer face a time limit to sue their abusers under a proposed bill announced at the Capitol Wednesday.
The Minnesota Child Victims Act would eliminate the requirement that victims file civil suits within six years of becoming an adult. It would not affect the statute of limitations in criminal cases.
Proponents of the Minnesota Child Victims Act say that it can take decades for people who were sexually abused as children to overcome the shame and secrecy surrounding those events to come forward. By then, it's too late.
Civil cases are a way for victims to seek damages from perpetrators or the institutions — schools, churches or youth organizations — that allowed the abuse to continue.
A news conference at the Capitol included two men who were too late to sue their abusers. Setting a deadline of six years into adulthood is unreasonable, said House chief sponsor Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park.
"Pedophiles don't retire."
"Age 24, that's it. If you come forward after age 24, you're simply out of luck. You can't go after anyone for any reason," Simon said. "And this would make sure that you lift that barrier and that folks like the people who showed up here today and bravely shared their stories could at any time bring a claim and try to get answers, in terms of not only who did this to them but who covered it up."
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One of the men who spoke at the news conference had his sexual abuse case dismissed by the Minnesota Supreme Court last year because of the statute of limitations.
Jim Keenan, 45, of Savage sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2007 claiming he was abused by a parish priest when he was an altar boy from 1980 to 1982.
"I found out that my abuser first abused his first victim in 1961. I wasn't born yet. I wouldn't be born for six more years. And I would live an additional 13 years before he got to me," Keenan said. "And 30-plus victims, if not more, were in his wake, all because nobody said anything. I think I should have the right to say something at any time I want to."
Under the Minnesota Child Victims Act, people like Keenan would be able to revive their cases. But bringing the lawsuit was hard on his family, Keenan said, and he is unsure if they would want to go through it again.
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church, said it will reserve comment until an actual bill is available.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis released a statement saying, "Since 2002, the Catholic Church has taken extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of young people in its churches and schools. Few, if any, organizations have instituted the type of measures to protect young people. In this regard, the Catholic Church is now a model for other institutions to follow in the safeguarding of our youth."
In addition to allowing victims to confront their abusers, advocates said that allowing old cases to proceed can help stop predators who are still finding new victims.
"Pedophiles don't retire," said Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
"By allowing the brave survivors, like the ones we've heard from today, to identify their abuser, oftentimes other victims come forward who are still within the criminal statute of limitations and they can be brought to justice."
If the proposed bill were to pass, advocates say Minnesota would be the only state in the country to allow victims to sue without a time restriction.
Sponsors say the Minnesota Child Victims Act is likely to be introduced later this week.