In Ohio, survivors of child sexual abuse (abuse which occurs before they turn 18) have until the age of 30 to pursue a civil cause of action against their perpetrator or any organization which failed to prevent the abuse. CHILD USA, the leading national nonprofit think tank fighting for the civil rights of children, concludes that Ohio has one of the harshest statutes of limitation nationally because 52 is the average age that a survivor will report their abuse. Thus for many Ohioans, when they work up the courage to finally come forward and report their abuse, they are met with the cold, sad reality that they can do nothing about it.
Ohio House Bill 266 seeks to address this issue and provide refuge for survivors of abuse who do not disclose it until after the age of 30. Introduced by Representatives Tavia Galonski and Jessica Miranda, House Bill 266 eliminates the criminal statute of limitations for rape and extends the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse until the age of 55, three years beyond the average age of reporting. It also opens a three-year revival window where any claim which was previously barred by the statute of limitations would become viable again thereby affording all survivors with an opportunity to be heard and to get the appropriate justice they deserve. Importantly, House Bill 266 applies equally to the actual perpetrators of abuse as well as any organization which facilitated the abuse thereby allowing survivors full pursuit of their claims.
There are tremendous benefits to this type of reform. First, it provides for the identification of hidden child predators and the institutions that endanger children. Think back to the Boston Globe’s Spotlight series on the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Prior to that, could anyone have imagined the scope of the Catholic Church hierarchy’s widespread coverup of sexual abuse within its parishes? Certainly not. The same holds true with recent exposures involving the Boy Scouts, USA Gymnastics, Penn State Football, and Michigan State Gymnastics. Without civil suits, none of this exposure would have ever occurred.
Second, reform shift the costs of abuse from victims and taxpayers to those who caused it. In these types of cases, emotional injuries last a lifetime and result in setbacks in education, jobs, and relationships. Often survivors also experience significant substance abuse issue and are homeless or reliant on public services for support.
Finally, it educates the public about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, warning signs to be cognizant of, and the lifetime impact of the injuries. The sheer number of organizations which have opened up in recent years dedicated to protecting children is a perfect example of this. In this context, more information is always better.
Unfortunately for Ohioans, House Bill 266 remains stuck in committee without even the benefit of a hearing. That needs to change so that all survivors can have their voices heard.