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While sexual abuse is often the subject of criminal punishments, the emotional and psychological damage of child sexual abuse can also lead to a civil lawsuit against the abuser, assuming the time limit for filing a suit has not passed.
The insidious nature of child sex abuse often keeps victims from discovering the cause of their trauma for years after the incident -- sometimes, after the general statute of limitations has expired for a civil lawsuit.
To combat this problem, each state has developed different ways of dealing with time limits for child sex abuse lawsuits. Here are some of the more common methods:
In general, without a parent or guardian, children cannot file a suit for damages when they are minors. That's why almost all states allow children to file suits for sexual abuse within a certain period of years after a child reaches the age of majority (typically age 18).
This is also known as "tolling" the statute of limitations, and it allows children who know about their abuse and its consequences to file a cause of action within a few years of becoming a legal adult -- when a suit would normally need to be filed within a few years of the actual abuse.
However, since many victims do not discover that the damage caused by their sexual abuse until far into adulthood, many states (like Illinois) have enacted laws that allow an adult to sue within a few years of discovering:
These extended deadlines for child sex abuse lawsuits may allow a 30-year-old who recently discovered he was abused at age 5 to sue his abuser when he would otherwise normally be barred by the statute of limitations.
There is a growing movement that states should adopt what Maine has done: explicitly providing that there is "no limitation", time-wise, for lawsuits based on sexual abuse of a minor.
If you are unsure if your child sex abuse claim may be past the deadline in your home state, it's best to contact an attorney familiar with sexual abuse cases in your area to discuss your options.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.