PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Joined by Rhode Island House and Senate leaders plus childhood sexual abuse survivors, Gov. Gina Raimondo ceremonially signed a bill helping victims of childhood sex abuse.
The new law extends the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims from seven years to 35 years after the victim turns 18, meaning the victim will have until they are 53 years old to sue their abuser or the institution that enabled the abuse.
The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket, had been in limbo after the House and Senate passed different versions earlier this year. Sex abuse survivors were not on board with the Senate version.
That version of the bill, deemed unacceptable by the survivors as well as House sponsor Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, cut out a provision allowing a victim who remembered their childhood abuse later in life to have seven years to bring a civil action against the perpetrator or institution.
The law now gives victims up to seven years to file a lawsuit after discovering or remembering abuse had taken place.
The House and Senate passed a revised bill in late June.
Hagan McEntee fought for the bill in honor of her sister, Dr. Ann Hagan Webb, who was abused by a priest as a child. She calls the legislation “Annie’s Bill” in honor of her sister.
“The real heroes here are the survivors who came forward,” Hagan McEntee said. “To the victims and survivors: you were heard, and that’s what matters.”
Hagan Webb says it took her years to come forward and knows there are more like her who have not been able to come forward yet without the bill or not.
“This bill helps them come out of their shadows. It helps them speak up, name the perpetrators, name the people who helped them, and that ultimately helps children,” she said. “It rescues future children from being abused because shining the light of day on this is what makes the difference. The children of Rhode Island are safer today because of this bill. I really do believe that.”
Nesselbush called the bill “a great victory” for the state, but said there is more work to be done.
“I know that I will not rest until we have no statute of limitations,” Nesselbush said. “Because in my mind, if you are the victim of that type of crime, whenever you can get the courage or summon the courage to bring forth the truth of what happened to you, and if—these cases are often very cold cases—if you can possibly get the evidence to prove your case, well, darn it, the courthouse doors ought to be open. And I won’t rest until we can achieve that.”
Jim Scanlan, a local survivor of clergy sex abuse who was featured in the movie “Spotlight,” said Monday was “an incredibly important day” for not only survivors but all Rhode Islanders.
“This is going to open up a lot of doors for people to feel empowered to come forward and really get the help they need, identify the perpetrators and those who are protecting them, and that will help us protect future generations of kids, future victims,” Scanlan said.