Many adults have vague memories of sexual abuse by a trusted adult, such as a clergy member, teacher or coach. Others know they experienced this type of trauma but were unable to confide in a parent or trusted adult at the time of abuse.
If these circumstances have affected your adult life, learn more about steps to take.
Statute of limitations
Most civil and criminal offenses carry a statute of limitations, which is the amount of time an injured person has to file a lawsuit. In 2019, New Jersey suspended the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse. That means you can file a lawsuit against your abuser no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Previously, these crimes were subject to just a two-year statute of limitations.
This suspension will end soon. In 2021, the state will adopt a new seven-year statute of limitations for sexual abuse. An adult can file a lawsuit within seven years of realizing past sexual abuse or before he or she turns 55 (whichever is later).
Claims against the Catholic Church
The new statute of limitations law coincided with the opening of the victims compensation fund by the Catholic Church of New Jersey in 2019. You could file a claim under this fund in 2019 if your abuser was a member of the Catholic clergy. However, if you accepted a financial settlement from this fund, you must waive your right to file a lawsuit in court against the church. Newer funds of this kind, such as one by the New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program that ended in 2020, also may restrict your right to sue. It is important to seek legal advice before signing this type of settlement.
Although it can be difficult to discuss childhood abuse, doing so often brings healing to victims. As investigations of these crimes continue in New Jersey, still more individuals will be able to pursue justice.