On Wednesday, the full House and the Senate approved bills to extend the time victims of childhood sexual abuse have to file civil suits. The legislation lengthens the statute of limitations to 35 years from adulthood, or seven years from the time a person realizes abuse took place.
The newest version of the bill also provides the same extension for filing suit against the state, cities and towns.
“This bill here will likewise it apply to the University of Rhode Island. It will apply to recreational leagues group homes, quasi-publics,” said bill sponsor Senator Donna Nesselbush. “Why would we not care about victims who are victimized via a state-run facility or a municipality?”
For the last two years, proponents have been working to pass such legislation.
“I realized that there was a trend going on throughout the nation where states across the nation have been introducing statute of limitations reform, and so the idea was born, why not here in Rhode Island,” said Nesselbush.
But advocates for the legislation say their efforts had been stymied, in part, by the Catholic Church and the insurance industry. The measure failed last session. This year, legislation looked uncertain after the provision that allows seven years following the moment of discovery was cut from the bill earlier this session.
Experts say that provision is especially important, as victims of childhood sexual abuse can repress memories and can take decades to come forward. That provision was eventually put back into the final bill.
The Rhode Island Catholic Conference, the political arm of the Providence Diocese, initially testified against the seven-year discovery rule but offered comments in support of the bill Wednesday.
The legislation now heads to the Governor’s office for approval.
“Abuse of any kind cannot be tolerated anywhere,” Governor Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “I’ve long supported efforts to hold abusers accountable and ensure that victims are given the time needed to come forward.”