Washington D.C.'s Statute of Limitations on Sex Abuse

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Are There Statutes of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Crimes in D.C.?

Yes, there are time limitations on when you can both prosecute and sue for sexual abuse in Washington D.C., so it is very important to keep the statute of limitations in mind when deciding whether or not to pursue a case.

It is also important to remember that the criminal statute of limitations (SOL) that applies is the one that was in place at the time of the crime itself.  So while it may have been lengthened in the time since, if the limitation ran out, it can NOT be reactivated (whether this is the case with civil litigation is still being debated).  It would be wise to consult a lawyer familiar with the local laws as to what rule applies to your case and if your time limit has expired.

Civil Lawsuit for Sexual Abuse

If you are attempting to sue an abuser for damages, then you must act within the time period of the civil statute of limitations, which is generally three years from your18th birthday (if the abuse happened while you were a minor) or three years from the actual abuse itself.  The District of Columbia is still undecided as to whether it also allows a "delayed discovery" rule, which prevents the statute from limitations from activating until someone "realizes" their injuries from abuse (often recovered repressed memories or the like).  

There have been cases decided both for and against the delayed discovery rule, and many factors may go into whether a judge will allow it.  The court will generally be more inclined to allowed the delayed discovery if the memory was completely repressed, as opposed to just partially.  

This is still an area open to litigation today, and could very easily be subject to change in the near future.  You should talk to a Washington D.C. attorney to get the most current information about what protections and requirements exist in your jurisdiction.  

Criminal Prosecution for Sexual Abuse

The criminal statute of limitations in Washington D.C. is actually much looser than it's civil counterpart, which is rather unusual (the opposite is true in almost every other state).  First or second degree sexual abuse of a child has a 15 year statute of limitations that does not begin to run until the victim is 21 years of age (most other states start the clock at 18).  Incest, recording child pornography, and sexual abuse of a ward or patient all have a window of 10 years (also starting at the 21st birthday of the victim, if he/she is a minor).  

Moreover, if the victim is a ward or patient of the abuser, the statute of limitations will not begin to run, regardless of age, until the victim is no longer in such a relationship with the abuser.   Since these rules are obviously complicated, with many loopholes, you should certainly talk to a lawyer specializing in these cases to learn if you still have time to prosecute an offender.  

Do I Need an Attorney?

Sexual abuse is one of the crimes that benefits the most from statutes of limitations, as often victims are too ashamed or frightened to testify before its too late.  If you are the victim of sexual abuse, a lawyer can help you by filing a lawsuit against your abuser, the people who enabled your abuser, or by discussing with you the complicated issue of statutes of limitations within Washington D.C.  But time is of the essence, so talk to a lawyer and learn your rights today.

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Last Modified: 11-30-2009 11:37 AM PST

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