The statute of limitations (SOL) sets the amount of time a victim or prosecutor has to file a sex abuse lawsuit. If you file a lawsuit after the SOL expires, the case will be dismissed. New Jersey has very different criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations.
It is important to remember that the statute of limitations that applies in your case is typically the one that was in place at the time of the abuse. This means that even though the SOL may have been lengthened since the incident, if time has run out, it cannot be restarted.
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.
In New Jersey, you must file a civil sexual abuse case within two years of the time you should have reasonably discovered abuse-related damage. In other words, if the statute may be tolled or paused if you have:
- Repressed memories, or
- Did not understand the conduct was abusive.
- While the Legislature has repeatedly attempted to lengthen the statute of limitations, the proposed bills have not been approved.
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 300 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 federal lawsuit within 90 days of the EEOC’s Right to Sue letter.
Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse
Criminal sexual abuse cases are filed by the State of New Jersey on behalf of a victim. In order to file criminal charges, you must notify the law enforcement of the sexual abuse. The authorities will investigate your claims and a prosecutor may file criminal charges against your abuser. If a suspect is found guilty of criminal conduct, he or she may serve significant jail time and have to register as a sex offender.
New Jersey does not have a statute of limitations for sexual assault claims. (Most sexual acts involving a child or rape are considered sexual assault.) Other offenses, including criminal sexual contact, must be filed within five years. However, if DNA evidence is involved, the SOL does not begin to run until the State has the evidence necessary to identify a suspect. Similarly, the five-year statute of limitations does not begin to run in a case involving a minor until the victim’s 18th birthday.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Filing a lawsuit against an abuser can be emotionally draining. Sexual abuse claims may involve a detailed legal and factual analysis, as well as strict procedural rules. A personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process, educate you about your rights, and offer emotional support. You may also want to file criminal charges with a law enforcement agency.
If you are facing sexual abuse charges and prosecution, a criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights. Time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney as soon as possible.