The state currently has among the most restrictive statute of limitations for child sex abuse in the country.
Kansas legislators are considering whether they should end or extend a statute of limitations curtailing sex abuse lawsuits.
According to The Wichita Eagle, Kansas generally gives victims of childhood sexual abuse three years to file a civil lawsuit after turning 18. That short window, naturally, precludes many victims from seeking recourse against their abusers.
Now, lawmakers are determining whether they should reconsider the time limit. Victims, too, are pushing for a so-called “lookback” window, which would allow lawsuits to be filed against individuals and organizations for abuse which occurred decades ago.
Numerous other states across the country have effected “lookback” windows or otherwise temporarily extended statutes of limitations for victims of child sex abuse. Such revisions have led to hundreds of lawsuits, many against prominent institutions, like the Roman Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America.
To date, the Catholic Church has paid out billions of dollars in settlements to children who were abused by pedophile priests, many in the 1970s and 1980s.
Part of the reason activists say Kansas’s current statute of limitations doesn’t work is experience and exposure. It’s apparent now, more than ever before, that victims of sex abuse—endured as children or adults—don’t always speak up in the aftermath of their victimization. For those individuals who do wind up talking—and not all do—it can take years to understand or acknowledge that they were abused, whether to themselves, to their friends and family or society at large.
Meanwhile, the mental health effects of abuse can endure and even compound into adulthood.
Lesa Patterson-Kinsey, a Prairie Village resident, was among a half-dozen adults who shared their story at a Topeka, KS, hearing. She, too, said it was difficult to admit what she’d endured.
“I knew my dangers in my house and I knew what they were and I felt like I could navigate them,” Patterson-Kinsey said. “To leave and face unknown dangers, I was not willing to do that. So I kept my story quiet.”
“You really just want to pretend like it isn’t happening and it never happened,” she said.
The Wichita Eagle says that, to date, 10 state shave eliminated civil statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, while another 14 have expanded cut-offs to age 50.
Kansas’s limit of 21, though, has remained unchanged for nearly 30 years.
Kathryn Robb, director of CHILD USAdvocacy, told the Eagle that reforming statutes of limitations helps hold negligent individuals and institutions responsible—whether for perpetrating abuse directly or enabling it.
“We have to make institutions responsible,” Robb said. “When we make institutions responsible and say, ‘hey, you’re going to be sued,’ they clean up their acts. It happens in every part of our society.”
Kansas lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations altogether. However, it’s yet to be amended to include a lookback window or similar such provisions.
The proposed legislation is opposed by the American Tort Reform Association on grounds that it would allow victims to file lawsuits for abuse which happened in the distant past.
“Statutes of limitations are a foundational element of a fair and well-ordered civil justice system,” said the organization’s president, Sherman Joyce. “They protect the integrity of the civil justice system by ensuring that judges and juries make decisions about liability based on the best evidence available.”