Sexual abuse is any sexual act which is committed with the intent to do any of the following to another individual:
- Harass; or
The state laws which govern criminal sexual abuse will vary depending on whether the victim of the abuse is an adult or a minor. Sexual abuse of a minor, or child sexual abuse, may be referred to as child molestation.
Sexual abuse of an adult is often referred to as aggravated sexual assault or rape. An individual has committed sexual abuse when they:
- Cause another individual to engage in a sexual act by threatening or causing fear in them; or
- Engage in a sexual act with another individual who:
- is incapable of comprehending the exact nature of the conduct; or
- is physically incapable of communicating their unwillingness to engage in the sexual act.
The prosecution of these crimes is typically subject to the statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is the legal term for a statute or law which specifies the amount of time an individual has to file a civil lawsuit or the amount of time in which a prosecutor has to file criminal charges against a defendant.
A statute of limitations serves to place a time limit on a plaintiff or the prosecution by providing a deadline for filing a lawsuit or charges. If that time limit has elapsed, the plaintiff or prosecutor may be barred from bringing their case against a defendant.
One main purpose of a statute of limitations is to protect a defendant from untimely litigation. This limitation allows a plaintiff to pursue a valid claim against a defendant, but only when the plaintiff exercises due diligence in filing a timely claim.
It is important to note that what is considered a timely filing of a claim depends on the state in which the claim is being filed as well as the type of claim that is being filed. In the State of Texas, for example, the statute of limitations for most plaintiffs to file civil lawsuits is two years from the date of the incident.
There are three main reasons why the law provides a statute of limitations, including:
- The statute forces a plaintiff with a valid cause of action to bring the claim in a timely manner;
- Bringing a claim untimely may result in the loss of evidence by a defendant necessary to defend themselves against the claim; and
- Litigation of a claim that is long-dormant can result in more cruelty than justice.
The United States Supreme Court has held multiple times that the standard rule is that the statute of limitations begins to run when “the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action.” The statute of limitations typically begins running when the harmful event, whether it is a crime or an injury, occurs or when a plaintiff discovers the injury, as in a case of fraud.
If a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations has run, then the claim will most likely be thrown out of the court upon a simple motion by the defendant. In some cases, however, the statute of limitations clock may have been paused for a period of time, which is known as tolling the limitations.
For example, in a criminal case where a defendant commits a crime and flees, resulting in the defendant becoming a fugitive of the state, that state will suspend the statute of limitations for the time period that the defendant was on the run. This means that a prosecutor will be permitted to bring charges once the fugitive is caught.
In addition, in cases where a plaintiff is a minor, tolling of statute is permitted in many states until the plaintiff reaches the age of majority. Typically, the age of majority is 18 but may vary by state.
The State of Missouri has different statutes of limitations for civil and criminal sexual abuse cases. Depending on the timing of the occurrence of abuse, different statutes of limitations may apply.
In Missouri, the law assigns different filing deadlines to child sexual abuse cases and adult sexual abuse cases. In addition, the statute of limitations which applies to an individual’s case is the one which existed at the time of their abuse.
This means that although the statute of limitations may have been lengthened since the abuse occurred, it will typically not permit a time-barred case. It is important to note that there is no Missouri statute of limitations on statutory rape committed against children under the age of 14.