Child sexual abuse is a heinous crime. Maryland law, as is, protects those who destroy lives, families, and whole communities. It is a crime that will forever change and affect the lives of children who have been subjected to it.
Statistics show one in five girls, as well as one in 20 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, according to data from the Crimes Against Children Research Center. Nearly three quarters of victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year, 45 percent of victims do not tell anyone for at least five years, and some never disclose it. In 56 percent of the cases the victim is abused by someone familiar to them, such as a family member or an acquaintance. This fact makes it difficult for the victim to come forward.
Many victims who have suffered through child sexual abuse experience long-term emotional and psychological effects. Many children who continuously endure extreme trauma in their childhood years struggle in certain areas of brain development and live with the weight of their trauma every single day. As time goes on, and life continues to move forward, many victims find it more and more challenging to cope with these issues. It is extremely difficult to say how much time victims will need to assimilate and work through these effects. Some may need a few years, while others may need an entire lifetime.
One thing is certain: In many cases, victims will need therapy, likely for the rest of their lives. A civil action against their abuser, if won, may help to lighten the economic burden of therapy and other necessary treatments to work through the issues they may be suffering through.
The current statute of limitations in the state of Maryland states that a victim of child sexual abuse is limited to seven years after they reach the age of 18 to bring forth a civil action against their abuser. The majority of victims of child sexual abuse are not able to connect how the criminal act or acts committed against them have affected their lives until many years later. Our narrow statute of limitations does not protect the victims of this crime nor allow for the possibility of any sort of closure or compensation. Senate Bill 668 will increase the statute of limitations to 20 years and thus create a large window of opportunity within which victims may file a lawsuit. Furthermore, this increase may also serve to deter sexual predators from using their power over children to criminally sexually manipulate them by leaving the door open for a financial and public punishment years down the road.
The issue of child sexual abuse is one that I am very passionate about because I suffered from vile abuse as a little boy. I believe that the legislature must serve to help its citizens in any way possible. Several states have an extended statute of limitations or have no statute of limitations at all pertaining to a civil action brought forth by victims of child sexual abuse, including Delaware, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maine and Alaska. It is my strong belief that Maryland must follow suit by extending our statute of limitations. By doing so, we will afford all victims of child sexual abuse the chance to seek closure and compensation for the criminal acts committed against them.
C.T. Wilson is a member of the House of Delegates, representing Charles County since 2011, and is the chair of the Maryland General Assembly's Veterans Caucus. His email is: CT.Wilson@house.state.md.us.