Washington bill may extend statute of limitation on sexual assault lawsuits



Washington State’s legislative building and state capitol, Olympia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Morgana Carroll, News Editor

Lawsuits for the sexual assault of a child must be reported within three years, meaning that a case must be filed within three years of the incident happening or within three years of when resulting harm has been discovered, according to wa.gov. 

House Bill 1618 (HB1618) was introduced in Jan. and would remove the statute of limitations entirely, allowing for suits to be filed any time. 

Roger Schaefer, an associate professor of law and justice with a background in sexual assault cases, said this is important because it will allow more time for the victims to do what  they need to do.

“This allows more time for prosecution for them to file charges or report the crime to authorities that can then conduct investigations and seek out formally charging these individuals,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer said that he thinks there will be a substantial impact from this bill if it gets passed.

“Sexually based crimes are underreported, and particularly children won’t report these crimes because the perpetrator is family or friend,” Schaefer said. “It’s somebody that they’re afraid to report that they really don’t know what to do or how to deal with that. So when they get older they feel more secure, or they’re in different life circumstances … so they can do this.” 

According to Schaefer, one of the reasons that sex crimes are underreported is the societal stigma behind them, so the removal of the statute of limitations would allow them more time to come to terms with what happened. 

“The fact is, there’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of internalized stigma. A lot of internalized blame,” Schaefer said. “For the victim that encounters this, it is terrible. Having a longer period of time where they can seek out the justice system’s involvement is giving them the opportunity to do so.” 

On March 2, the bill passed the house 82 to 14 and is currently in the state senate. Schaefer said that he thinks there will be little pushback against the bill in the senate.

“I think most people will look at it and realize that these crimes are very underreported,” Schaefer said. “They’ll say, ‘yeah, we can understand why [three] years might not be enough time for a victim to come forward.’”