HARTFORD, CT – (Updated 4:30 p.m.) Survivors of sexual abuse were heartbroken to learn Thursday that the Judiciary Committee has no plans to raise legislation that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault.
Lynn Laperle, a survivor and member of the Statutes of Limitations Regarding Sexual Abuse, Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Assault Task Force, said that on one hand they’re being told to speak up, “but when we finally do say something no one really wants to hear it.”
“I get that listening to victim and survivor testimony in regards to sexually violent crimes committed against them can be very difficult to hear and it can be emotionally draining to those members on the committees, but can you imagine how difficult it is for survivors and victims to come forward and to have to relive these horrible crimes committed against them?” Laperle said.
Laperle said she came forward to tell her story after learning that her predator molested another little girl.
“It was then that I realized that I wasn’t his only victim,” Laperle said. “And needed to say something so no one else would be victimized by this predator.”
Getting rid of the statute of limitations was a priority of the Senate Democratic caucus, but Sen. Mae Flexer said Friday is the deadline for the Judiciary Committee to raise concepts and the elimination of civil statutes of limitation is not on the agenda.
Flexer said victims of sexual abuse have been speaking to lawmakers for months and years about this issue.
“It is devastating that they have chosen to not at least give this bill a public hearing,” Flexer said.
Laperle said she can’t imagine any reason not to raise the bill this year.
Sen. Gary Winfield, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he supports the legislation, but he’s not the only one who makes the decisions about what legislation goes forward.
He said the ranking Republican members of the committee are part of that conversation and there wasn’t a desire to move forward with the legislation this year.
Others felt the issue had recently been addressed.
Last year, the General Assembly passed a bill that extended the statute of limitations for forced rape or rape by drugs from five years to 20 years. The statute of limitations would also be extended for things like unwanted touching from one year to 10 years.
It also eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for all children and if a victim was 18, 19, or 20, the statute of limitations would be 30 years following the victim’s 21st birthday, effectively the victim’s 51st birthday.
He said it was difficult in the crush of other business and in negotiations with other parties and caucuses to make that bill move forward. He said he knows there’s not going to be an answer that makes survivors feel better about the situation.
“It’s just one of those things,” he added.
Rep. Steve Stafstrom, the other Judiciary Committee co-chair, echoed the comments.
“With respect to this important and sensitive issue, it should be noted that the Judiciary Committee led passage of significant changes to both the civil and criminal statutes of limitations just last session,” Stafstrom said in a statement.
He said the elimination of the statute of limitations altogether and retroactively is controversial.
“In this ‘short’ legislative session, the calendar only allows for the Judiciary Committee to hold between 8 and 10 public hearings,” Stafstrom said. “Unfortunately, that means not every worthwhile or important topic can get a full airing. In fact, the Committee is only raising around 30% of the ideas or concepts that were proposed to us. With that said, we hope to discuss further changes to the statute of limitations in a future legislative session.”
Lucy Nolan, director of policy and public relations for the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said ignoring this issue gives protection to predators.
“The people who have power are speaking and those of us who want to take back our power are being left voiceless,” Nolan said.
One of the survirors of clergy sexual abuse said the church still has power and has been lobbying against raising this legislation for months.
“Each time an institution cries that eliminating the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault will bankrupt them, they admit guilt,” survivors wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “There is no evidence verifying the arguments that eliminating a civil statute of limitations will increase the costs to the state, inundate our courts, or result in false claims, or engender dubious cases due to the lack of evidence.”
Nolan said in states that have eliminated the statute of limitations, there hasn’t been a flood of lawsuits.
She said in 2020, 12 states have introduced legislation to eliminate the statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse.
The task force voted unanimously to retroactively eliminate the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, as well as all others forms of sexual abuse.