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. Tennessee has different criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations.
Different statutes of limitations may apply, depending on whether you were sexually abused as a child or adult. Additionally, the statute of limitations that applies is 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.
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.
Tennessee expanded the civil SOL for childhood sexual abuse in 2016. Now, a civil sexual abuse case must be filed within:
- In childhood sexual abuse cases, three years from either:
- The victim’s 18th birthday, or
- The date when the abuse was discovered, or
- One year from the event for adult personal injury cases.
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 lawsuit within 90 days of the EEOC’s Right to Sue letter.
Criminal cases are filed by the State of Tennessee 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.
In Tennessee, the criminal statute of limitations varies depending on the severity and timing of the offense. The criminal statutes of limitations include:
- Childhood sexual abuse cases involving rape, sexual battery, or incest:
- If the abuse occurred before 7/1/1997: By the victim’s 18th birthday or within four years of the offense (which ever is later),
- If the abuse occurred between 7/1/1997 and 6/2006: By the victim’s 21st birthday,
- On or after 6/2006: Within 25 years of the victim’s 18th birthday.
- Aggravated rape: 15 years,
- Rape and aggravated sexual battery: 8 years,
- Other sexual offenses: between 2 and 4 years.
If you need help determining the correct statute of limitations in your case, contact law enforcement immediately. Early reporting of sexual abuse may result in stronger evidence and a better chance of convicting your abuser.
Tennessee also provides financial assistance to criminal sexual abuse victims though its Criminal Injuries Compensation Program. This Program will pay for a victim’s medical bills, other crime-related expenses, and compensation for pain and suffering. However, there are reporting and application deadlines. You must report the crime to law enforcement within 48 hours (unless the victim is a minor) and an application for benefits must be filed within a year of the crime.
Too often, sexual abuse claims go unfiled. They can be emotionally difficult to report and pursue. A personal injury lawyer can offer emotional support, guide you through the process, and educate you about your rights. 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.