Capital Clicks

Advocates for child sex abuse survivors push to remove deadline for civil cases

By: - April 11, 2022 5:14 pm

Advocate Kylie DeWees spoke in favor of a bill to end the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault cases. (Screenshot from news conference livestream)

Sen. Janet Petersen and childhood sexual assault victim advocates are making a final push to eliminate the civil statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse before the legislative session ends.

“Until the civil statute of limitations is fixed, our survivors of child sex abuse just don’t have access to justice, and I believe that that is absolutely wrong,” Petersen, D-Des Moines, said in a Monday news conference.

The Iowa Legislature passed a bill last year to eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal charges. But that law did not change the statute of limitations for a civil suit, which requires survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file against their assailant before they turn 19. If a teacher, counselor or school employee was the abuser, survivors have up to five years after leaving that school to bring a civil suit for sexual abuse.

Petersen advocated for the passage of Senate File 32, a bill to remove the civil statute of limitations for people who were abused as minors. 

“We’ve seen the governor and Senate Republicans pass a complete overhaul on our state’s tax system in a matter of days,” Petersen said. “They have plenty of time to get a leadership bill done to get rid of Iowa’s civil statute of limitations before we adjourn for the year… Senate File 32 is written and ready to go.”

Petersen and advocates argued changing the law for civil suits would allow more sexual assault survivors to come forward in adulthood. Kylie DeWees, a victims’ rights advocate and law student, said the bill would also allow survivors to sue organizations, like schools or sports groups, rather than just individuals.

“Civil court, through this bill, is where the institutions will begin to set higher bars and higher standards to protect the children of Iowa,” DeWees said.

Republicans have taken no action on Senate File 32.

In January, a Senate subcommittee considered a different bill, Senate File 2095, to eliminate the statute of limitations for civil cases only after a survivor wins a criminal case against their assailant. That bill never advanced to committee.

Sen. Brad Zaun and Sen. Julian Garrett, Republican leaders on the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.