When it comes to sexual assault, especially that of a child, the state should do everything in its power to bring justice for survivors — criminally and civilly. That’s why state lawmakers should support House Bill 1618. The bill would remove the three-year statute of limitations currently in place for civil action in such cases. In 2019, Washington lawmakers passed legislation that removed the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of most sexual offenses against children just as the #MeToo movement began to draw attention to the issue. It’s time those seeking justice for what sometimes amounts to decades of suffering be allowed to do so civilly as well. Currently, lawsuits must be filed within three years of when the abuse occurred, or three years from when a victim realizes they are experiencing harm from the abuse. In many cases, the trauma involved in sexual assault isn’t immediately realized when victims are children. Rather it is manifested when they are adults in life-altering ways such as addiction, suicidal tendencies and abusive relationships. Removing the three-year window would allow for civil awards that could help pay for counseling and support survivors whose experiences can be so crippling that they can alter one’s personal and professional lives. Often, children keep sexual abuse locked inside for years out of fear or shame; fear of their abuser’s threats, fear that they won’t be believed and the shame that comes from the “blame the victim” mentality. The change in Washington law would not erase that reality, but it would provide one more path to justice for survivors that often eludes them in criminal court. In addition, removing the statute of limitations for civil actions would serve as a warning to institutions such as schools and churches that have often looked the other way when sexual assault occurs within their ranks. The Seattle Times editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Alex Fryer, Claudia Rowe, Carlton Winfrey and William K. Blethen (emeritus).
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