Washington State's Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Lawyers

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Are There Statutes of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Crimes in Washington?

Yes, there are time limitations on when you can both prosecute and sue for sexual abuse in Washington, and they are rather complicated.  It is very important to keep the statute of limitations in mind when thinking about 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 Washington law 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 three years from your 18th birthday.  However, Washington is one of the many states that has incorporated a "delayed discovery" rule into it's SOL, which takes into account the nature of sexual abuse and how memories of it may be blocked or purposely forgotten.  It therefore allows prosecution of an abuser within three years of the date that the memories are discovered (usually in some kind of therapy).  

However, unlike most states, Washington's laws go even farther for victims rights.  Although the situation is very common, people that haven't repressed memories per se, but may have lived in ignorance of the damage the abuse has had on other aspects of their lives (intimacy issues, problems with child rearing, etc....) are normally barred from filing suit by the SOL, because even the "delayed discovery" rule only applies when you have truly repressed the memory.  In Washington, though, the law allows the SOL to also run from three years of the discovery of the "causal relationship between injury and abuse," thus closing this loophole as well.  These rules also apply to negligent third parties (such as officials who employed the abuser and knew of his abuse, i.e. schools or religious organizations). 

Bear in mind that this is a highly contentious issue of legislation, and could very easily be subject to change in the near future.  There is currently pending legislation that would ban the statute of limitations entirely for sexual abuse, so you should talk to a Washington attorney to get the most current information about what state law protections and requirements you have.  

Criminal Prosecution for Sexual Abuse

The criminal statute of limitations in Washington's is somewhat more complex.  For very young children, the rule is rather straightforward: any abuse of a child younger than 14 years of age can brought to trial within either 3 years after the 18th birthday of the victim OR 10 years after the crime itself, whichever one is later.  

But If the victim is OVER 14 years of age, then it must be reported to the police within 1 year of the abuse, after which there is a 10 year window for the prosecuter to prosecute.  If the the abuse is NOT reported within a year, then the victim has only three years from the date of the abuse to press charges. 

Since these rules are obviously complicated, with many loopholes, you should certainly talk to a lawyer specializnig 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 suit against your abuser, the people who enabled your abuser, or by discussing with you the complicated issue of statutes of limitations within Washington.  But time is of the essence, so talk to a lawyer and learn your rights today.

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Last Modified: 11-05-2009 02:00 PM PST

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