A statute of limitations (SOL) sets the amount of time a victim or prosecutor has to file a lawsuit. Typically, if you file a lawsuit after the SOL expires, your case will be dismissed. Alabama has very different criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations.
Additionally, the statute of limitations that applies is the typically the one that existed at the time of your abuse. This means that even though the SOL may have been lengthened since the incident, it typically will not renew time-barred cases. It is always in your best interest to report sexual abuse as soon as possible.
Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse
In a civil lawsuit, a victim of sexual abuse demands compensation and damages from his or her abuser. You may be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, including compensation for your pain and suffering. Civil lawsuits can also be filed against institutions that failed to protect you from abuse under a theory of vicarious liability.
Unfortunately, Alabama has some of the shortest sexual abuse statutes of limitations in the United States. A civil sexual abuse case must be filed within:
- In childhood sexual abuse cases, two years from the victim’s 19th birthday, or
- Two years from the event in adult sexual abuse cases.
There are no exceptions to these rules for repressed memories or DNA analysis. Due to these short statutes of limitations, victims of abuse must act very quickly.
So if sexual abuse occurs at your workplace, you may also have a sexual harassment lawsuit under federal law. You must file a complaint (or charge) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the sexual abuse or harassment. The EEOC will investigate your claim and determine whether it will pursue a lawsuit on your behalf. If it decides not to litigate your claim, it will issue a Right to Sue letter. You must file a lawsuit within 90 days of the EEOC’s Right to Sue letter.
Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse
Criminal cases are filed by the State of Alabama on behalf of a victim. In order to file criminal charges, you must notify law enforcement of the sexual abuse. The authorities will investigate your claims and a prosecutor may file charges against your abuser. If a suspect is found guilty of criminal conduct, he or she may be sentenced to significant jail time and sex offender registration.
Although the civil SOL is very short, Alabama gives prosecutors a lot of time to file violent or childhood sexual abuse charges. The criminal statutes of limitations vary depending on the severity of the offense. The criminal statutes of limitations include:
- No statute of limitations: rape, violent sexual abuse, sexual abuse with the threat of violence, and any sexual abuse of a victim under the age of 16,
- Other felony sexual abuse: three years, and
- Misdemeanor abuse: one year.
To determine the correct statute of limitations in your case, contact law enforcement immediately.
Although you may not face a statute of limitations in your criminal case, you should still report sexual abuse as soon as possible. Early reporting of abuse may give law enforcement and prosecutors stronger evidence and a better chance at convicting your abuser.
Other Compensation for Crime Victims
Alabama crime victims can apply for financial assistance with crime-related medical bills and other expenses from the Crime Victim’s Compensation Commission. (There is a maximum benefit of $20,000.) To be eligible, you must typically report the crime within 72 hours and apply for benefits within a year. These deadlines may be waived if you can show good cause for a late filing.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Sexual assault and abuse claims are emotionally difficult. They also involve detailed legal analysis and strict procedural rules. A personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process, educate you about your rights, and offer emotional support. You should also file criminal charges with a law enforcement agency. If you are facing sexual abuse charges and prosecution, a criminal lawyer can help you understand your rights. Time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney as soon as possible.