Bill Would Eliminate Deadline for Child Sex Abuse Suits

Posted at: 02/27/2013 11:37 PM
Updated at: 02/28/2013 7:10 AM
By: Mark Albert

His name and his abuse had been hidden for decades.

"I was John Doe 76C," the now-45 year-old recalled.

Then Jim Keenan lifted the veil of anonymity and went public.

And lost.

"It just felt empty. It was over," Keenan thought.

He was a 13 year-old Apple Valley alter boy when, he said, his parish priest abused him. The abuse continued for two years, Kennan alleges.

When Keenan was 38, he sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, which ultimately led to his name being revealed publicly. But last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court threw out the case, deciding the statute of limitations had long since expired.

"There was nothing more I could do until I got calls about this bill that was being written."

Keenan is set to testify on Thursday at the Capitol in support of a bill (SF534) that would eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims.

"I think it would give a lot of hope to people whose cases were tossed out like mine because it validates that the justice system is ready to receive you when you're ready to heal," said Kennan in an interview at his south metro home.

Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins) has paired up with fellow DFLer Sen. Ron Latz to introduce the bill, which is the most sweeping version in the state Legislature in the past decade.

"Those folks need the flexibility to get justice," Rep. Simon said in an interview Wednesday. "It's not right that after age 24, the courthouse door is shut in the face of those who faced these horrible crimes."

Currently, a child abuse victim cannot bring a claim in civil court once they have passed 24 years of age, or, for an adult, the abuse is more than six years old.

The Minnesota Religious Council, a group that includes the six Minnesota synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, opposes the bill in its current form.

"You have people who have died, you have memories that have faded, you have records that can't be found," explained The Rev. Karen Bockelman, chair of the Council, by phone from Duluth.

She also plans to testify Thursday that in her view the bill is too broad and could have the unintended effect of hurting more victims, if abuse is not quickly reported and stopped.

"The earlier a report is made, the more quickly a perpetrator can be removed from a position of authority or a position of responsibility and, therefore, the chance is much better to prevent further abuse or other victims," Bockelman said.

While no state has completely eliminated the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases as the Minnesota bill proposes, three states - Delaware, California, and Hawaii - have passed legislation that extends the time limits for civil suits by opening up "windows" of reporting later in life once an adult fully recalls the childhood abuse, according to research conducted for the Minnesota bill's authors.

Delaware, along with Alaska, Maine, and Florida, also have no limit for future abuse cases, but claims from abuse that occurred before those reforms were implemented are still subject to the traditional time limits.