When the law sets a time limit for filing a lawsuit it is called a “statute of limitation.” These laws were originally designed to ensure that evidence and witnesses would be available to both sides of a lawsuit. Through the passage of time, it was thought, documents could be lost and witnesses could die. It would be unfair to hold someone accountable if they were unable to defend themselves.
In the area of sexual abuse and assault, thoughts about this topic are shifting. Trauma can cause victims to “clam up” about their abuse – they don’t care to relive it so they don’t want to share it. Sometimes the brain protects itself by locking those memories up so tight that the person can truly “forget” what happened – at least for awhile Research has shown, though, that those memories don’t really disappear. The memories instead can create havoc in the person’s life, especially when the trauma has not been addressed. It is not uncommon for a victim to stuff those memories for decades. The original spotlight on the Catholic church priest abuse scandal came to light when older men started talking about what had happened to them when they were little boys.
Because of this reality, some states have started expanding the time period in which victims can sue for childhood sexual abuse. Oklahoma has done so – but in a limited fashion. In Oklahoma now, a victim of childhood sexual abuse may sue their perpetrator up until the victim’s 45th birthday. BUT, this same time period does not apply to the insitution (such as the church) where the abuse happened. As to organizations or people responsible for the perpetrator, the statute of limitation is only two years (a little more for minors).
The problem with this law is it allows churches to get away with knowing about abuse. When a church chooses to move a perpetrator to another facility rather than protect kids, they have done wrong. And, for a short period of time, they may be held responsible as their actions were negligent. But that time period often runs out before the victim is ready to come forward.
Oklahoma needs to do better by childhood sex abuse victims. Following the lead of other states, Oklahoma needs to eliminate, or at least expand, the statute of limitation for these victims.
If you have questions about your legal rights, contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.