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. Criminal and civil sexual abuse claims have different filing deadlines.
Additionally, different statutes of limitations may apply depending on the timing of your abuse. Wisconsin law assigns very different SOL’s to adult and child sexual abuse cases. Additionally, the statute of limitations that applies is the one that existed at the time of your abuse. This means that even though the statute of limitations may have been lengthened since the incident, it typically will not renew time-barred cases.
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 Wisconsin, a civil sexual abuse case must be filed within:
- Childhood sexual abuse cases: before the victim’s 35th birthday,
- Adult assault and battery cases: two years, and
- Adult personal injury cases: three years.
If you need help calculating the SOL in your case, contact a personal injury lawyer.
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 for Sexual Abuse
Criminal cases are filed by the State of Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin, the criminal statute of limitations varies depending on the severity of the offense. The criminal statutes of limitations include:
- First degree sexual assault: no statute of limitations,
- Other sexual crimes against a minor: before the victim’s 45th birthday,
- Second and third degree sexual assault: 10 years,
- Other felony sexual assault: six years, and
- Misdemeanor offenses: three years.
If DNA evidence is used to identify the perpetrator, criminal charges may be filed during the 12 months after identification (even if the SOL has expired).
While Wisconsin’s criminal statutes of limitations are lengthy, you should not delay reporting your sexual abuse. Prompt reporting can help law enforcement build a stronger case against your abuser through DNA and other evidence.
Other Compensation for Crime Victims
Wisconsin’s Crime Victim Compensation Program helps pay a victim’s crime-related medical bills and other expenses. You may be eligible for up to $40,000 in benefits. However, there are reporting and filing deadlines in victim compensation claims. Typically, you must report the crime to law enforcement within five days of the crime or within five days of when it could have reasonably reported. Adult victims must apply for benefits within a year of the abuse. Minor victims must apply for compensation within a year of turning 18.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Too often, sexual abuse claims are not pursued. But, you do not have to face your abuser alone. 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.