A bipartisan bill to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims by 10 years has died in the Missouri Senate, despite being passed unanimously in the state’s House of Representatives.
House Bill 367 was sponsored by Rep. Brian Seitz (R) and co-sponsored by five other members of the Missouri House, Republicans and Democrats alike. It would have extended the age limitation for victims bringing civil action against any perpetrator of sexual violence or torturous acts against a “vulnerable victim” to 55. The bill defines a “vulnerable victim” as any person who was “disabled, a minor or both” at the time they were sexually abused.
The bill would have allowed any victim of child sexual abuse in Missouri to take legal action against their abuser until the victim turns 55.
“My raising the statute of limitations will give some adult children the time that they need to come to terms with the abuse and seek redress in civil court,” Seitz said in introducing the bill.
In February, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimonies from abuse survivors who experienced child sexual abuse while at Kanakuk Kamps in Branson and were, for varying reasons, unable to publicly come forward about their experiences until adulthood. All these survivors believe increasing the statute of limitations will allow children who experience abuse the time they need to understand, come to terms with and speak out about what was done to them.
Despite efforts by Seitz and bipartisan support for this bill, the Missouri Senate chose not to give it a hearing during this session.
According to a report by Child USA, 86% of childhood sexual abuse goes unreported. Younger victims are more likely to take a longer time disclosing their abuse or may not disclose it at all. Male victims are also more likely to delay disclosure in comparison to females. Additionally, children with intellectual and communication deficits often face challenges when trying to communicate about abuses they have endured.
There are also other factors, such as shame, cultural norms, family life, a child’s relationship to the abuser and the severity or duration of abuse. All these factors influence a child’s likelihood of immediate or delayed disclosure.
Given data that informs community understanding of childhood sexual abuse, Seitz explained during House debate a few weeks ago, “We now have a much greater understanding of mental health than we did in the past. On average, it takes an adult male until age 52 to come to terms with what happened to them as children.”
He added: “It is believed that child sexual abuse is the most widespread health problem children across the state face, with the most severe array of consequences. In fact, more than 5,800 children are victims of sexual abuse or neglect each year in Missouri. Although so many children endure traumatic experiences, less than 38% of the victims actually come forward to an adult about being abused.”
Despite the failure of HB 367 this session, Seitz believes the momentum already gained will continue to bring about change. He had predicted the bill would die when it got to the Senate but said his goal is to “continue to fight for victims’ rights.”
He is planning to refile this same legislation during the next legislative session.