In 2021, the Louisiana legislature passed a bill allowing child sex abuse victims more time to seek justice against their abusers and the institutions that protected them. When Gov. John Bel Edwards signed it into law, it signaled a victory for abuse survivors and victims’ advocates, especially those who suffered sexual abuse from Louisiana clergy members and church leaders. But the Louisiana Supreme Court will soon hear T.S. v. Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province, a case challenging the Louisiana sex abuse lookback law because it is unconstitutional. The court’s ruling could affect all the sex abuse cases filed since the Louisiana law was passed nearly two years ago.
Louisiana isn’t alone in expanding survivor rights. Dozens of jurisdictions in the U.S. have enacted similar laws giving sex abuse victims more time to file civil lawsuits. These laws have been challenged in state courts nationwide, including in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Virginia, and courts have consistently ruled that lookback window laws are constitutional. The Louisiana Supreme Court is expected to hear the case and rule on it later this year, and its findings will determine whether similar litigation can move forward.
What Is A “Lookback Window” Law?
A “lookback window” extends the statute of limitation for sexual abuse civil claims. Louisiana sex abuse survivors have until June 14, 2024, to file claims, regardless of when the abuse occurred. It is sometimes harder for sex abuse survivors to come forward and report their abuse. Only 2% of sex abuse perpetrators will ever be sentenced to prison, and victims wonder whether anyone will believe them. Survivors commonly exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. When an abuser is in a position of power, the damage can be even more profound. For example, Catholic Church leaders and clergy are often alone with children and vulnerable people because they are trusted in the community. When authority figures exploit that trust, it causes significant emotional distress for victims. Child sex abuse survivors are more likely to struggle with alcohol and drug dependency and are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts.
Both civil and criminal offenses fall under a statute of limitations. Previously, victims of child sex abuse in Louisiana could only file claims against their abusers and those who enabled the abuse before they turned 28 years old. But the 28th birthday limit isn’t aligned with what the data shows us about child sex abuse. Up to a third of sex abuse claims are never reported. For those who come forward, the average age to report abuse is 52. It often takes decades for a few reasons. A child may not realize that they’ve experienced sexual abuse until years later. Additionally, some predators convince children they’ll get in trouble if they report the abuse. Lastly, children may convince themselves they are at fault for the abuse.
Importance of a Filing a Civil Sex Abuse Lawsuit
Unfortunately, sexual abusers are rarely convicted of criminal charges. Civil court allows survivors to seek justice and recover damages for their mistreatment. While the criminal court is designed to punish an abuser, the civil court is intended to compensate those who experienced the abuse. The burden of proof is also higher in criminal cases when compared to civil sex abuse lawsuits. A lawsuit not only allows an abuser to be punished; it also lets survivors hold institutions accountable for failing to stop abusers. In some cases, the Catholic Church knew its priests were harming children but failed to report the crime to law enforcement.
No financial sum can take away the trauma that sex abuse victims endure, but compensation can offset the costs of medical expenses, therapy treatment, emotional distress, and pain and suffering. The Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling will determine whether survivors can pursue justice even if they don’t meet the restrictions set in the previous statute of limitations.
If you have survived childhood sexual abuse in Louisiana and are curious about your legal options, call HHK today. Our Louisiana sex abuse lawyers advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and can help negotiate settlements from abusers and the institutions that shielded them from responsibility. The Louisiana lookback window created by HB 492 closes next year, so it’s important to move quickly. Call 844-943-7626 or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.