Back story to creating this timeline:
During my thirties, I started to wonder if I could possibly bring legal charges against my dad for sexually abusing me back in the 1970’s, both here in Utah and in California. What prompted this question was finding out he had in one case, attempted to molest and in another case had gone on to molest other family members. It was difficult to make phone calls to find out. I didn’t know who to call… I thought if I called the police, I might be forced to name my father and I didn’t feel ready for that. I was still afraid of him. When I finally made calls– (to the Salt Lake County DA’s office- and to local police- back in the early 2000s), I was so relieved that no one was forcing me to say my dad’s name, or even the relationship I had to my abuser. Still the answers to the question, “Can I still do something legally about the abuse?” were confusing.
Fast forward to 2014. For my master’s degree I studied the legal time limits survivors of child sexual abuse have for “doing something legally” about the abuse. Getting educated on this topic and on other historical realities of child sexual abuse has been tremendously empowering. I want to help other survivors understand whether they can do something legally about the abuse they suffered. My own experience and those of other survivors affirm that more than trying to recoup the tremendous financial losses we suffer- especially in adulthood, due to therapy, medical bills, lost or unearned wages, self-harm to cope with the pain, inability to maintain stable relationships, etc., survivors are driven to warn the public about those who have abused them, to prevent any other child from suffering the way they have.
So, here’s a tool, I created. You can look at the time line and the laws that were in place at the last time you were abused by the same perpetrator and see whether you can still get to both criminal (prosecution- jail time) and/ or civil (suing for damages) court. This is only for abuse that happened in Utah. For other states- a place to start is to go to: www.sol-reform.com
Part I: the time limits to get to criminal court
Disclaimer 1: I find reading disclaimers annoying. I feel that I must write a disclaimer here. My apologies, if like me, this annoys you.
Disclaimer 2: I am not an attorney. The information I present here comes from spending hours digging through Utah law books to re-create a timeline that begins in Utah pre-territory days, until present day, of the changes in the amount of time that survivors of child sexual abuse have had to get to criminal court and to civil court. I was a graduate student– a damned passionate one, with regard to this topic, so I feel fairly confident in my findings, but please check with an actual attorney to confirm the findings I present here.
* Bottom line- if you were sexually abused as a minor (younger than 18) by an adult as far back as 1983 and it was never reported to law enforcement (Church authorities don’t count)– it’s still possible that you can take them to criminal court.
The reason is that when the law changes and your time hasn’t run out yet, you get to go under the new law.
Example: Say you were abused in December 1983- the law at that time was that you had up to one year AFTER the abuse was REPORTED TO LAW ENFORCEMENT, so long as no more than eight years total have passed since the abuse (last time of the abuse by the same person). The law changed mid-year of 1991– less than eight years total, from the 1983 abuse- so if you never reported the abuse from 1983 by 1991, and the total amount of time that passed, is less than eight years, then your case gets to go under the new law. The 1991 law said you had FOUR YEARS FROM THE TIME THE ABUSE WAS REPORTED TO LAW ENFORCEMENT.
Any qualifying abuse done after 1983 and not reported yet to law enforcement to this day, has been “grandfathered” into the 1991 law, which has then been grandfathered (my apologies if the term grandfather is triggering, for those abused by their grandfathers) into the 2008 law, which removed– going forward, the criminal time limits for survivors to get to court.
Whew. Seriously, is it any wonder people, including those that “should” know are confused?
I will post how the civil time limits work in part II.
Til then, feel free to reach out if you have any questions, comments, answers.
Yours in advocacy-