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Gov. Lynch Signs Childhood Sex Abuse Law Today

September 2, 2008

Boston, MA – The statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit related to childhood sexual abuse is being extended to 12 years after the victim's 18th birthday, an increase of five years. Gov. John Lynch is signing the extension into law today. The law is needed, victim advocates say, because it can take survivors years to come to terms with what happened to them as children.

Jennifer Durrant with the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence says extending the lawsuit window is reinforced by research findings.

"We know that people who were sexually assaulted, often for long periods of time by people they trusted, tend to not disclose that trauma until later on in life."

Sexual abuse victims will now have until age 30 to file lawsuits for civil damages. While New Hampshire gets kudos for giving survivors more time, Durrant is convinced the state could do better. Many other states, she says, are completely eliminating their statutes of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases.

Critics of the change are concerned it could encourage false accusations. But Durrant says the new law gives notice to offenders that they cannot escape justice with the passing of time, and she believes it encourages those who have been abused to come forward.

"We are really trying to build a place where survivors feel comfortable. I think we have definitely come a long way, not only in changing our laws, but in our social service delivery systems."

The governor signs the law, SB 311, today at 2 p.m. in the Governor and Council's Chambers.

Deborah Smith/Steve Powers, Public News Service - NH