Excerpt from Rebecca Beitsch’s “#MeToo Has Changed Our Culture. Now It’s Changing Our Laws,” PEW Stateline, 31 July 2018.
Statute of Limitations
States have spent the past several years expanding statutes of limitation for sex crimes. In some states, victims could not seek justice if they didn’t report the assault within a few years of the incident. Now states are lifting or extending the amount of time victims have to file civil suits against their abusers, citing cases such as the revelations of widespread abuse within the Catholic Church. Many people abused as children waited years or decades to come forward.
But such measures remain controversial. In Hawaii, Attorney General Russell Suzuki, a Democrat, opposed efforts to extend the statute of limitations. “Over the passage of time, memories fade, witnesses move or pass away, and documents are lost or destroyed,” he said. “A claimant could conceivably wait to file a lawsuit until the most strategically opportune time to prevent a defendant from defending against the lawsuit.”
State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, a Democrat, has tried repeatedly to end the statute of limitations in Hawaii. She has succeeded in the past in getting legislators to agree to a two-year window that would lift the statute of limitations for civil suits for sex crimes. But a similar effort failed last year, and she wasn’t expecting any progress this year.
Instead, the bill “glided through,” she said, due to news that at least 34 men, former students of Kamehameha Schools, reached an $80 million settlement after facing years of abuse by the school psychologist.
Kamehameha Schools, a private institution reserved for those with Hawaiian blood, is a point of pride for the state and the alma mater of many of its leaders.
“There’s been so much of a revelation … and I think victims are now feeling like there’s support for them to come forward and speak out,” Shimabukuro said, adding that the process can be particularly difficult for men. “This really brought this into our local consciousness too in Hawaii. It’s not just a Catholic Church thing.”