Childhood sexual assault survivors were given more time to pursue civil action against their offenders after Gov. Doug Ducey signed a new bill into law on May 28.
Before H.B. 2466, victims had until their 20th birthday to file a lawsuit against their perpetrator or any other institution that was aware of the sexual assault but did not act on it. Now, the bill allows them to come forward up until the age of 30.
The law also allows for a short-term window until December 31, 2020, for those who ran out of time to come forward before the bill passed, said Minnie Almader, a licensed professional counselor for sexual assault and trauma at the University of Arizona Counseling & Psych Services.
The effects of childhood sexual abuse can last years, Almader said.
“It is common for most victims to struggle for decades before making the connection between childhood abuse and the addictions, self-harming behaviors and depression they often experience,” she said. “H.B. 2466 will help survivors seek justice.”
Many times victims will never speak out, said Marie Fordney, executive director for Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center.
“We as a society have a hard time wrapping our head around abuse and we struggle with wanting to talk about it,” Fordney said. “A lot of times, a child won’t ever tell.”
Some victims don’t realize that what was done to them was a crime, Fordney said. “Young people need that extra time to really understand and process what has happened to them and know in their heart that it is not their fault.”
Imelda Esquer, YWCA Southern Arizona program manager of the Women's Center for Economic Opportunity said one in four girls will be sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.
“Sexual assault leaves shame and guilt on the victim and recovering from any form of sexual assault is a process that does not have a specific time of length,” Esquer said.
In a press conference before signing the bill, Gov. Ducey introduced the establishment of the Justice for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse Task Force, aimed to find different ways in which sexual assault victims can get the justice they deserve.
While the Arizona governor signed the bill, Arizona State Senators Paul Boyer and Heather Carter played a major role in the making of the new law. "[Boyer’s] singular focus on this issue, drove it over the finish line,” Gov. Ducey said in the press conference.
“An individual who experiences childhood sexual abuse will begin a journey of healing when they tell their story,” Almader said.
While this bill can help change the conversation surrounding sexual assault, Fordney said our society needs a paradigm shift. “We have a lot of work to do,” she said.
“It is never your fault, that’s really what we should all know,” Fordney said. “It is never your fault.”
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