BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed legislation removing deadlines for Louisiana’s child sex abuse victims to pursue damages in civil court, delivering a victory to survivors of abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy.
The new law, taking effect Aug. 1, will create a three-year window where all unresolved child molestation claims can be pursued in civil court, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Until now, child sex abuse victims had until their 28th birthday to initiate litigation over their abuse.
“The scars of childhood sexual abuse may stay with survivors long-term, and they deserve more time to report these devastating crimes,” Edwards spokesperson Christina Stephens said Monday in a statement announcing the bill signing.
The measure sponsored by New Orleans Rep. Jason Hughes, a Democrat, received final passage Thursday, the last day of the legislative session. During debate, Hughes cited research that showed the average age for child sex abuse victims to report the crimes is 52.
Though the new law will apply to a wide range of victims, Hughes’ bill received key support from a coalition of people abused by Catholic priests and deacons, their attorneys and a national advocacy group that specializes in strengthening child protection laws.
“Not only will this (law) afford victims of horrific child sexual abuse justice, but it will also make the children of Louisiana safer,” said a statement from Child USAdvocacy Director Kathryn Robb, who helped Hughes with the bill. “The light of truth is both healing and protective. Bravo to Louisiana.”
Despite the new law, Louisiana’s largest Catholic institution, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, has mostly insulated itself from future lawsuits over the scandal.
As part of the archdiocese’ bankruptcy case filed last year, people alleging they were sexually preyed upon by archdiocesan priests and deacons had to file a claim for compensation by March 1 or forever lose the right.
The bill is filed as House Bill 492.