all things social work

CSA: Dump statute of limitations on child sex abuse

on December 14, 2011

By Barbara Quirk

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 6:30 am


Several years ago I gave a talk on “sex after 60” to a group of conventioneers up in Stevens Point. After my talk, an older woman approached the lectern. “I was sexually abused as a child,” she told me in a hushed voice, “and I have never told that to anyone. Not even my husband knew.”

I led this woman to a side room and her story of her experiences so many years ago came tumbling out. Years had not erased the pain and fear and shame. The details of the abuse were disturbingly vivid and she trembled as she recalled the events.

Her predator was a farmhand who threatened to harm her younger sister if she told anyone. Until that day in Stevens Point, perhaps 70 years later, she never had told anyone.

How common is sexual abuse among children? Well, if you consider the Penn State scandal, the Catholic Church’s and other religious sects’ outrageous behaviors, one would believe it more common than we know.

From my many years working with older adults, I believe it is not that unusual, especially in rural areas, where isolation is prevalent.

What we do know, from research done in the 1990s, is that particularly women who have been abused tend to overuse the medical system. Often these women border on being neurotic. No surprise.

Currently Wisconsin’s law states that sexual abuse cases must be brought forward by victims before they reach age 35. That may change. As reported in a recent Cap Times article, state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, and state Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, have introduced legislation aimed at protecting victims of sexual abuse by removing the civil statute of limitations in sexual assault and rape cases involving children.

The legislation is called the Child Victims Act and the two lawmakers are seeking co-sponsors to remove the punitive limitations that prevent or discourage older adults from telling their stories and identifying the perpetrators.

This proposed legislation is modeled after laws enacted in other states and would hold accountable offenders for sexually assaulting children regardless of when those crimes were committed.

Lassa states that laws such as the Child Victims Act can help prevent ongoing patterns of abuse.

“The Penn State situation is another tragic reminder that pedophiles, if given the opportunity, will continue to seek out new victims,” says Lassa of the ongoing shame at this major university. “Research has shown that these child molesters will have over 80 to 100 victims during a lifetime and will continue to victimize children well into their 60s and beyond.”

And yet, as things currently stand, Wisconsin protects these criminals with a statute of limitations. That must change and legislators who are proposing the Child Victims Act should clearly expect the full support of their colleagues from both parties. This must not be delayed.


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