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FSI Supports HB 687 Reforming Maryland's Civil Statute of Limitations

FSI is again submitting testimony supporting the legislation and will be attending the events.  

HB 687 reforming Maryland's civil statute of limitations by:

·        Eliminating the SOL for civil child sexual abuse claims.

·        Expanding the definition of child sexual abuse to eliminate the necessity to prove the care, custody, supervision, and control requirements of Family Law 5-701

·        Creates a 2-year Revival Window or “Window of Justice” that allows those victims who have been previously barred due to scientifically untenable and low SOL in the past (victims barred at age 21, 25 and 38). 

The bill passed the House 135-3 after harmful amendments were defeated 5-129.  You can hear a recording of the powerful 16:47 minute debate by Delegate Wilson , et. al.  at this link.  Thanks to Janis Sartucci for making the recording easily accessible! 

 

On Thursday, at 11:30 am (just prior to the hearing at noon), survivors and advocates will hold a press conference in front of the House Office Building.  Survivors, including the Sponsor, Delegate Wilson, are asking for support in participating in the rally and hearing.  Folks are being asked to wear white; and, No More Stolen Childhoods will provide "Healing & Justice" stickers to identify us as a group.  We hope that many of you will make the time to attend on Thursday to show your support of the bill and most especially survivors of child sexual abuse.  

 

Here is our testimony:

FIRST STAR INSTITUTE TESTIMONY RE: HB 687

SUPPORT, WITH AMENDMENTS

 

Submitted to the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee

Chair: Senator Bobby Zirkin

Vice Chair: Senator William Smith, Jr.

 

Thank you to the Committee for allowing me to submit this testimony in support of HB 687.

 

My name is Noy Davis.  I am the Vice President of Operations of First Star Institute, a national child advocacy policy organization, that evaluates and publishes reports on various laws and practices that promote the welfare of abused and neglected children, including A Child’s Right to Counsel (4th ed upcoming), and State Secrecy and Child Deaths in the US.  First Star is committed to supporting change that will result in all children receiving the supports they need to grow up to lead happy, healthy and productive lives.

 

As we said in our earlier testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, First Star supports HB 687.  First Star supports the elimination of all civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse (SOL). Having an SOL protects perpetrators and systems that allow them to flourish.  Removing it opens the door to the possibility of justice for survivors, to the possibility of shifting the financial burden for harms to the perpetrators and allows society to clearly state that child sexual abuse is wrong and that it will not maintain laws that protect abusers. 

 

Child sexual abuse is a widespread problem, with estimates ranging from 18-20% for girls and 3 to 17% for boys. (D. Coilin-Vezina, I Daigneault, M Hebert, Lessons learned from child sexual abuse research: prevalence, outcomes and preventive strategies, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 7:22).  Whether for associated trauma, psychological, familial, or other reasons, disclosure of childhood sexual abuse does not usually occur until adulthood. Approximately 60% of victims do not disclose until adulthood, with some estimates setting the average age for disclosure at 52.  (SOL Fact Sheet https://www.childusa.org/sol)

 

This legislature acted on this widespread problem in 2017 and expanded civil access to the civil courts by child sexual abuse victims.  Unintended language added to that legislation before passage, however, poses a risk to victims’ access to the courts.

 

Passing this Legislation in this Session will Reaffirm the Legislative Intent to Expand the Statute of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse Claims by Survivors Regardless of any unintended uncodified language about a statute of repose

 

As Del. Wilson has explained several times, the uncodified SOR language is contrary to legislative intent.  In addition to his statements, we searched the publicly available information related to the 2017 legislation, and did not find any discussion of an assessment or a weighing of the benefits of a statute of repose, as distinct from a statute of limitations.  We have seen no documentation indicating that the 2017 legislature intended anything other than an extension of the statute of limitations and an expansion of the ability of survivors to bring civil suits. 

Passing HB 687, with amendments, would affirm this legislature’s continued intention to expand access to the courts for child sexual abuse victims and best help child sexual abuse victims.  To do nothing poses a risk to the suits of too many survivors (all those over 38) in a legislative vehicle that was designed to expand their access.

Constitutional Concerns are Best Resolved by the Courts in this Developing Area

The complexities of national and Maryland SOL and SOR and revival windows are addressed in greater detail in submitted testimony by others. In short, the particular constitutional questions have not been clearly or squarely addressed by Maryland courts.  Moreover, the law in this area is a developing one.  With increases in information about the very late age of average disclosure, with trauma from the abuse contributing to delays in disclosure, and an increased understanding about widespread, long-term, serial child sexual abuse under circumstances that include extensive exploitation of authority and other acts, the law in this area is far from clear and is best resolved by the courts, after a clear statement, again, by this legislature that Maryland is expanding child sexual abuse survivor access to civil court. 

Respect for Victim and Survivor Decision-Making – Each Survivor Deserves the Opportunity to Make the Decision for Him or Herself – Not Misplaced Concern for False Hope

We respectfully suggest that the only person who can and should make the decision about whether to proceed with civil litigation is the individual victim and survivor, with the benefit of counsel. 

In summary, we strongly urge this Committee to make a clear statement of support for the expansion of the ability of sexual abuse survivors to bring civil suit and to favorably report this legislation which eliminates the SOL, creates a limited 2 year revival window.  To provide the clearest support for child sexual abuse victims, this committee should act in this session.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments.

Noy Davis

Vice President of Operations, First Star Institute

4410 Massachusetts Ave., #255

Washington, DC  20016

noy@firststarinstitute.org (202) 800-8411

 

 

 

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