understand and process exactly what happened to them as children.214 The psychological trauma
that victims experience and the fear of their abusers makes it difficult for child victims to report
the abuse until much later in their lives.215 As a result, many claims of childhood sexual abuse are
not reported until the victim becomes an adult.216 Children often do not understand what is
happening to them during their childhood and only gain clarity about their experience later in
life.217 They usually lack the communication skills to verbalize their experience or articulate that
they are being abused.218 Thus, in almost all cases the largest barrier that victims of childhood
sexual abuse face is that of an expired statute of limitations.219
A. Statutory Barrier to Justice: Statute of Limitations
Advocates point to psychological research indicating that it is not only common for
children to repress memories for years at a time, but also the reality for many children who are
sexually abused.220 One advocate points out, “[i]t is eerie how the law dovetailed with the
pedophile’s predilection for children of a certain age,” noting that by the time these children are
mature enough to report abuse it has likely stopped because of their age.221 In order for a victim to
officially report abuse when he or she is a child, three things have to happen: the child has to
recognize that what is happening to him or her is wrong, the child has to come forward and tell
someone, and finally, someone needs to believe the child.222 Thus, proponents argue, it is
important to provide victims with a means to justice when they finally do report abuse.223
Advocates suggest that legislation extending the statute of limitations (the “SOL”) focuses on
helping victims because it assists in identifying more child sex abusers and inspires other victims
of the same abuser to come forward.224
The SOL for raising a claim of child sexual abuse often prevents victims from bringing
their claims because they are not emotionally ready to pursue such action until they are adults.225
The SOLs are created by the legislature, not by the judiciary, as a matter of public policy.226 They
are designed to keep stale claims out of court and to prevent defendants from having only limited
access to a viable defense, because memories of the event have likely faded and evidence has
likely been lost.227 The SOLs are also designed to exclude from courts those who neglect their
rights and fail to diligently pursue claims in a timely manner because “it is not the policy of the
214 Id. at 397.
216 Id.; OLIVA, supra note 14.
217 HAMILTON, supra note 4, at 18.
218 OLIVA, supra note 14, at 161.
219 91 AM. JUR. Trials 151 § 21 (2004).
220 Khorram, supra note 12, at 405. This theory is controversial in application because there is not agreement as to whether it is a valid
psychological theory. Id. Opponents argue that these memories could very likely be false. Id.
221 HAMILTON, supra note 4, at 19. Marci A. Hamilton is an advocate for a SOL reform, author of Justice Denied: What America Must
Do to Protect Its Children, and organizer of
sol-reform.com. See Directory, Marci A. Hamilton, CARDOZO LAW,
http://www.cardozo.yu.edu/directory/marci-hamilton (last visited Apr. 19, 2014).
222 Khorram, supra note 12, at 407–08.
224 HAMILTON, supra note 4, at 29–31. Statutes of limitations are statutes enacted by the federal government and individual states
“setting maximum time periods during which certain actions can be brought or rights enforced. After the time period set out in the
applicable statute of limitations has run, no legal action can be brought regardless of whether any cause of action even existed.”
BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 927 (6th Ed. 1990).
225 Miller, supra note 14, at 600; OLIVA, supra note 14, at 163–69 (noting that there are a variety of factors discouraging children from
reporting abuse including: embarrassment, blaming themselves, fear of punishment, disbelief, family member involvement, guilt about
the act itself, being labeled by other children, disclosing a secret, belief of threats that the abuser makes, and lack of information about
the court system).