The Statute of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse in Illinois

Sexual abuse is a devastating event. It can have lasting physical, mental, and emotional consequences. And when a child is abused, it often takes years and even decades to fully uncover the damage. Abusers must be held accountable for the damage they have caused to the people they have abused. However, in order to get justice, a victim of abuse must file suit against the abuser and any organizations that perpetrated the abuse before the statute of limitations runs. This article will discuss the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse in Illinois.

From 1991 to 1993, the statute of limitations in Illinois for childhood sexual abuse barred claims of childhood sexual abuse if the victim was over 30 years old. However, given that many of the injuries associated with childhood sexual abuse, including sexual dysfunction, do not manifest themselves until much later in life, the statute of limitations during this period had the effect of barring many meritorious claims and allowing many abusers to escape civil liability. Additionally, many children who are sexually abused have no way of knowing that they are being abused at the time, particularly when the abuser is a person in a position of authority, such as a member of the clergy, a teacher or a stepparent.

Since 1991 there have been many changes in the statute of limitations, both in the law and in the way courts have interpreted the law.

In 2003, Illinois made significant changes to the statute of limitations. In relevant part, the statute of limitations, states:

"an action for damages for personal injury based on childhood sexual abuse must be commenced within 10 years of the date [a person turns 18] or within 5 years of the date the person abused discovers or through the use of reasonable diligence should discover both (i) that the act of childhood sexual abuse occurred and (ii) that the injury was caused by the childhood sexual abuse. The fact that the person abused discovers or through the use of reasonable diligence should discover that the act of childhood sexual abuse occurred is not, by itself, sufficient to start the discovery period under this subsection (b). Knowledge of the abuse does not constitute discovery of the injury or the causal relationship between any later-discovered injury and the abuse." ILCS § 5/13-202.2(b)

The statute of limitations in Illinois presently does not bar claims until ten years after a person has reached the age of 18 or within five years of the date that the victim of abuse discovered that childhood sexual abuse occurred, and that their injuries were caused by childhood sexual abuse. This new five year period has made it possible to file a number of claims that would have been barred by the previous statute of limitations.

Additionally, if a person is subject to "threats, intimidation, manipulation or fraud perpetrated by the abuser or by any person acting in the interests of the abuser", the statute of limitations will not run during this period. For instance, if you were abused by a member of the clergy as a teenager, and were intimidated by either the clergy or by his church, even after you turned 18, the statute of limitations would be "tolled", or stopped, during this period of time.

This law is not without some controversy. It is possible for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file suits in their 40s or later, provided that the abuse and the damage cased by the abuse were not discovered until within five years of the suit. Illinois does effectively have one of the longest statute of limitations for these types of injuries. While some feel that the lengthy time period allows alleged victims to bring “stale claims”, most agree that the serious injuries caused by childhood sexual abuse outweigh this consideration.

The statute of limitations in Illinois and in most states is complex and cannot be analyzed without looking into the legislative history of the law. Many lawyers that are not familiar with these issues will overlook defenses to the statute of limitations. So even if you have been told by an attorney that it is too late to pursue your claim be sure you speak to an attorney that understands the nuances relating to sexual abuse claims.

*article courtesy of Joseph G. Klest.