Star-Advertiser: ‘Changes to Sex Assault Bill Set New Limits on Victims’ Recourse

By Allison Schaefers
Apr 01, 2014

A state Senate committee put limits on a controversial bill Friday that seeks to provide victims of sexual assault more time to press charges or file a lawsuit.

House Bill 2034, which was introduced by Rep. Mele Carroll (D, Lanai-Molo­kai-Paia-Hana), sought to remove both the criminal and civil statutes of limitation on first- and second-degree sexual assault and the continuous sexual assault against minors under 14.

The measure was intended to address the April 24 sunsetting of a state law that had created a two-year window for old abuse claims. The law, signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2012, exempted the state and also extended the statute of limitations on lawsuits to eight years from the victim’s 18th birthday or three years from the time the victim discovers his or her psychological injuries are related to past abuse. State law had previously set the statute of limitations at two years under both scenarios.

Carroll’s bill attempted to leave the window open permanently for what state lawmakers initially intended as a one-time opportunity to help victims in cases where the statue of limitations had expired.

While the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor kept Carroll’s bill moving, it imposed the following limits:

  • The current two-year window to file civil claims for decades-old misconduct cases would be extended by five more years.
  • For civil claims against a legal entity who employed or had some degree of control over the perpetrator, the legal standard for reviewing liability will be changed from “gross negligence” to “negligence.”
  • For criminal claims arising from first- or second-degree sexual assaults against a minor, or the continuous sexual assault of a minor under 14, the five-year statute of limitations would begin to run when the claimant turns 25.

Sen. Maile Shi­ma­bu­kuro (D, Kalaeloa-Wai­anae-Makaha) said the changes were made to improve the odds of the bill becoming law. “This is very important legislation to the (Senate) Women’s Caucus,” she said. “I was especially moved by the two victims who came forward to testify.”

Shimabukuro said the caucus heard testimony from a female who said she had been raped while in jail for an unpaid parking ticket and was unable to seek justice because the statute of limitations had expired before she came to terms with the crime.

“We also heard a very moving story from a man who had been repeatedly abused by a relative,” she said.

Shimabukuro said the Senate changes were made to better protect the rights of victims while protecting due process.

“We received strong opposition to this bill from defense lawyers, the attorney general’s office and the Catho­lic Church,” she said. “We were concerned if it were passed as written that it would get vetoed.”

She said opponents mostly are concerned that too broad of a statute of limitations would make it difficult to defend against claims, particularly if the perpetrator has died.

A similar measure, Senate Bill 2687, is also moving through the Legislature. That bill, which the House deferred for decision-making until Tuesday, seeks to expand the window to allow victims to bring civil claims for child sexual abuse.

Click here to read the article on the Star-Advertiser site.

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