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Arizona Lawmakers Again Decide Not To Extend Statute Of Limitations For Child Sexual Abuse Survivors

Victims of child rape and sexual abuse won't get more time to sue their assailants, at least not this year.

On Thursday Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, refused to allow a vote on the measure in the Senate Appropriations Committee which she chairs.

Currently, survivors of abuse have to file suit within two years of turning 18. The proposal, SB1011, would have expanded the window to 12 years.

Expanding that window actually has broad support, including from Cobb. But two other provisions of the bill are controversial.

One part would open up a two-year window for those who were molested years ago but whose time to file suit under the current Arizona law has since expired.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, who sponsored this bill, said it can take years for someone who has been groomed by a predator to actually realize that it was not their fault.

Attorney Jeff Dion, who said he was a victim of child sex abuse, agrees.

"I did not recognize what happened to me counted as abuse until I was in law school,'' he told lawmakers. "I was in my mid 30s before I recognized how that abuse had harmed me and what the impact had been on my life.''

And Dion said this legislation isn't simply about getting compensation and justice for victims. He said such lawsuits are the only way of shining a light on those who committed abuse and putting a halt to their activities.

"We know that, even if it takes someone 30 years to disclose the abuse, when their perpetrator is still alive, they're often still molesting kids,'' he said.

Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said he is not supporting the bill because he thinks opening a window for decades-old cases to be heard in court is a bad idea.

“We have statutes of limitation because the farther you remove yourself from an incident of harm, the less likely you're going to remember exactly what happened, the less likely witnesses are going to be available, the less likely someone's going to be able to defend themselves,” he said.

The other controversial part of SB1011 would have allowed survivors to sue organizations that purposely ignore evidence of child abuse and allow offenders continued access to children.

Boyer has been trying to change the statute of limitations for years and is expected to propose a measure again next session.

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Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer from 2015 to 2019.