WNYT.com

Vermont lengthens statute of limitations for sex crimes against children

Posted at: 05/17/2013 5:17 PM
Updated at: 05/17/2013 5:43 PM
By: Abigail Bleck

BENNINGTON and ALBANY--Mark Lyman lives and breathes the Statute of Limitations in New York.  Both as an advocate for people who have been sexually abused and as a victim himself.  Prosecutors in the Empire State have a five year window after a sexual abuse victim turns 18 or five years after it is reported--whichever comes first.

"A significant number of people go into their 30s, 40s and even 50s before they decide to come forward or even remember of the sexual abuse," explains Mark Lyman of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, in Albany.

Vermont, however, accomplished what New York has not.  Just this week in Montpelier, the House and Senate increased the statute of limitations for sexual abuse against a child from 24 years to 40.

"This is clearly having an effect on our ability to protect today's children and really to do something about it," says Christina Rainville, Bennington County's Chief Deputy State's Attorney and the prosecutor who helped legislators draft the bill.

Rainville believes the change was necessary because children are often too fearful to report abuse at the hands of an authority figure.  They also don't always realize--or remember--that it occurred, especially with young children.  And for those who do, reliving the pain necessary for a successful prosecution isn't always possible.

"A huge percentage develop PTSD.   They physically and neurologically aren't capable of dealing with the trauma.   They can't talk and anything that reminds them sets off the triggers," adds Rainville.

Back in Albany, where the Legislative Session is nearing wraps, Lyman hopes New York notes and acts after Montpelier's progress.

"We need it.  We've been asking for this legislation for many years but the time has come.  We need this legislation now."

Vermont's Governor Peter Shumlin has not signed the bill yet but according to Rainville, she hasn't heard that he won't.

In previous years, New York's Assembly approved a statute of limitations change but the Senate did not. 

Sexual abuse advocates say no statute of limitations at all would be best and also laws that allow for retroactive prosecution.