Yes, there are time limitations on when you can both prosecute and sue for sexual abuse in Illinois.  However, Illinois has some of the most progressive laws in this field, so the statutes of limitations (SOL) are quite long.

But It is still important to remember that the criminal statute of limitations 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.

If you are the victim of abuse, the first thing you must decide is whether you are pursuing something criminally or civilly, as the statute of limitation is usually different between the two of them.

Civil Lawsuits

Illinois has recently enacted a special piece of legislation dealing with the sexual abuse of children, which codifies the previous judge-made law known as the “delayed discovery” doctrine.  The law says that an action for damages for childhood sexual abuse must be commenced within 10 years of the date the person abused discovers the abuse.  “Discovering the abuse” here takes into account the nature of sexual abuse, which causes many people (especially children) to block the memory out or pretend that it didn’t happen.

Previously, such people would be unable to bring lawsuit against the abusers, as often they wouldn’t come to terms with the abuse until well into adulthood when the statute of limitations had run out.  But now, the SOL will only run from the date of the discovery (usually done in therapy).  On top of that, the 10 year limit will not even begin to run until the child’s 18th birthday.

It should be noted, though, that recently the State Supreme Court of Illinois has taken a somewhat more conservative approach to this doctrine, and has found that the memories must truly be “blocked” in order for the SOL not to prevent a lawsuit.  Being aware of the abuse, but too scared or embarrassed to testify about it would NOT qualify.

Criminal Cases

Illinois has also recently enacted laws to extend the criminal statute of limitations, as well as the civil one.   In a bill signed into law in 2005, the crimes of incest, child pornography, indecent solicitation of a child, soliciting for a juvenile prostitute, and juvenile pimping are all prosecutable within one year of the victim’s 18th birthday OR within three years of the crime, whichever is longer.  So someone who is sexually abused at 17 has until their 20th birthday to file charges, while someone abused at 10 has until their 19th birthday.

The crimes of sexually assaulting (in any of its degrees) or molesting a child (who isn’t related to you) carries a much longer SOL, 20 years from the child’s 18th birthday.  Furthermore, in reference to the Catholic Church scandal, any prosecution for failure of a person or institution to report a sexual assault of one of their employees or agents ALSO has a 20 year statute of limitations from the victim’s 18th birthday.

Bear in mind that this is a highly contentious issue of legislation, and could very easily be subject to change in the near future (especially in an election year).   Therefore you should talk to an Illinois attorney to get the most current information about what state law protections and requirements you have.

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 Illinois criminal 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 Illinois.  But time is of the essence, so talk to one and learn your rights today.