Women Lead in Child Sexual Abuse Statute Of Limitations Reform

Last Thursday, something historic happened: The Governor signed into law a bill giving survivors of sexual child abuse much more time to bring law suits against their abusers. The bill, of which I was the lead senate sponsor, had previously cleared both branches of the legislature with unanimous votes.

Sexual child  abusers steal children’s souls and it often takes decades for survivors to gain the insight and regain the self-respect necessary to fight back against their abusers. The old law, which generally required survivors to take action by the age of 21, effectively deprived many survivors of any legal remedy.

Tens of thousands of survivors across the Commonwealth, whether or not they are in a position to press legal claims, should take heart knowing that the elected leadership of the state respects them and supports them in their recovery. Estimates and definitions vary, but surveys suggest that perhaps 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience sexual child  abuse.

I stood behind the Governor as he signed the bill. I looked out across the room filled with survivors. Many of them had spent years advocating for extension of the statute of limitations. Their pride and relief gleamed through their tears as the Governor, in a final way, recognized and legitimized their efforts.

What I processed afterward was that essentially all of the survivors in the room were women. For two years, I had worked to put together support for the reform. A kitchen cabinet of child advocates supported and guided me and the lead House sponsor, Representative John Lawn, while we negotiated with institutions who were concerned to manage the financial consequences of law changes. With the exception of a couple of attorneys for survivors, all of the advocates were women.

It’s never easy for anyone to talk about surviving abuse. But it seems that more women have had the courage and capacity to lead on the issue by telling their stories repeatedly.  Sexual child abuse is not about misguided love — for the abuser, it’s a compulsion and a power trip. And part of the harm of sexual child abuse is that, even as an adult, the survivor mistakenly feels responsible and ashamed. Owning publicly that one has been sexually abused may, perhaps, be more emotionally difficult for a man and also, perhaps, more risky, given the persistent stereotype that manhood means invulnerability.

I hope that the message of support we sent last week will help adult survivors of child abuse, both men and women, to shed remaining pain, shame and confusion about searing events in the distant past that were beyond their adult control.

I also hope that the extended statute of limitations will help to protect children in the future from abuse. Child-serving organizations will now own responsibility for sexual child  abuse committed by their employees for much longer. They will need to insure against the increased risk of law suits for negligent supervision of employees. To limit that risk, insurers will force organizations to adopt generally-recognized best practices to reduce protect children. The resulting increased consciousness may also indirectly serve to reduce sexual child abuse in families.

There is more work to be done. As a legislator, I look forward to expanding a partnership with all concerned to continue to make our state safer for children.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

8 replies on “Women Lead in Child Sexual Abuse Statute Of Limitations Reform”

  1. Senator Brownsberger, I can’t thank you enough for all you did to get this bill passed into law! You have helped so many survivors to be able to get the justice that is deserved to them! Thank you!

  2. Thank you , Senator Brownsberger, for using your time and energy on issues of such importance.

  3. Senator Brownsberger,

    I am writing to thank you for all your work and commitment on the SOL reform law. As a survivor and personal friend of Kathryn Robb’s, I have been following the process closely and cheering you all on from a far. I know how much you and Representative John Lawn and Kathryn and the many others put into making this a reality and I am truly grateful for all your work.

    Although the legislation doesn’t help my situation personally as my abuse happened in New York, I am kindred to so many here. This law gives hope and validation to those who struggle with the burdens of victimhood. You have helped to give victims deliverance from fear and shame by giving them a pathway to justice.

    I am likewise very pleased that organizations and individuals managing them will have to pay closer attention and be held accountable for their employees.

    Because of this law, ultimately, the children are safer. Because of this law, more victims can get justice. And because of this law, more perpetrators will be held accountable.

    Thank you.

  4. Dear Senator,

    Although I do appreciate this bill that was championed by you and others like Representative Lawn, I feel it did not go far enough. I feel it is too much of a compromise with the religious and educational institutions and their insurance companies. We, the victim/survivors should have taken precedence over their needs. Where is the one-year “window” legislation part of the bill? Why do we survivors over 53 have no right to justice? Our pain did not end, it was only kicked to the curb again!

    I will never give up to see justice in this state, in our country, in our world…THE OLDER SURVIVOR DESERVES IT TOO!


  5. Thanks, Madeline. I know it would have been great if we could have gone further. We did the best we could!

    I hope you noticed that people of any age now have seven years from when they discovered the harm of their abuse as opposed to the previous three years.

  6. Senator Brownsberger,
    I want to thank you for being the voice for so many victims of abuse, those too young at the time to fight for themselves, those suffering as adults from the lasting physical and emotional effects. these are heinous crimes committed by criminals for whom every effort must be made to prosecute and hold accountable. Thank you for giving them and their supportive families the power to do just that; I know it took courage, moral character and a great deal of intense, ground-breaking networking, research and legislative effort. You and your staff and all those involved are to be commended. Thank-you, Suzanne Messina

  7. Dear Senator:

    This endeavor is so much needed and long overdue. Passing the bill is such a victory for all of us including those who pain for these victims and hold contempt for their perpetrators.

    Unfortunately, this problem is more common than most of us know.

    I want to thank you for these efforts.

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