Maryland Senate Committee Passes Bill to End Time Limits on Filing Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits
A bill in the Maryland legislature has passed a key committee, which may eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits in Maryland, allowing survivors to bring claims against perpetrators or those who enabled the abuse, regardless of how much time has passed.
The Child Victims Act of 2023 was approved by the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Friday, in a 10-1 vote. The bill now moves on to be voted on by the full State Senate.
If passed by the legislature and signed by the state governor, the bill would remove time restrictions limiting how long an individual has to file a lawsuit over sexual abuse or assault when they were a child.
A similar Maryland bill, the Hidden Predator Act, was crafted in a way that was similar to laws which passed in states like New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and California, which provided a two-year window to file sexual abuse claims regardless of how long the incidents occurred. However, while it has been introduced in a number of state legislative sessions, it has never passed the state senate.
The laws passed in other states resulted in thousands of child abuse lawsuits being filed by survivors, who sometimes waited decades to do so. However, this latest bill being proposed in Maryland would remove of the statute of limitations on child sexual assault claims permanently, instead of restricting the ability to bring claims to temporary window, like provided in other states.
The bill is being opposed by the Maryland Catholic Conference, which could face hundreds, or even thousands, of clergy abuse lawsuits over incidents of child abuse carried out by priests for decades. The Conference claims the new law would be unconstitutional, but the new Maryland Attorney General, Anthony Brown, has indicated he believes he can defend the constitutionality of the proposed bill if it is passed into law.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore has been under investigation for four years by former Maryland Attorney General Brian Fosh, who has signaled that he will soon release a report outlining decades of incidents of credible child sex abuse in the Catholic church, after the redacted report is approved by a state judge.
Preliminary results from a Maryland church sex abuse investigation has reportedly identified 158 Roman Catholic priests who served in Baltimore, who have been accused of sexually and physically abusing more than 600 individuals over an 80-year period.
The report was generated, in part, through an investigation of hundreds of thousands of documents dating back to the 1940s, which were turned over to a Maryland Grand Jury as part of the investigation. The court, however, has to approve the report before the names of Maryland priests accused of sex abuse can be released. .
Widespread Child Sex Abuse In the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts
The legislation to eliminate the Maryland child sex abuse statute of limitations comes amid growing concerns nationwide about decades of attempts to cover up credible claims by the Catholic church, Boy Scouts of America and other entities.
Facing clear signs of massive liability, Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy in 2020, following the discovery that the organization maintained a list of known sexual predators who served as volunteers or employees of the organization, known as the “perversion files.” However, the Boy Scouts prioritized protecting predators and attempting to limit their own liability over protecting children.
After a two year window in the New York child sex abuse statute of limitations was opened in 2020, tens of thousands of claims were brought against the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church and other entitles throughout the state. The Buffalo Diocese alone had at least 230 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors, with eight specific priests accounting for more than 1,000 lawsuits filed in that part of the state.
While statute of limitations laws have also been enacted in a number of other states, including New Jersey, California and Louisiana. Other states are still debating similar bills that would allow survivors to hold abusers and entities that enabled their conduct accountable.
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