KIRKWOOD, Mo. — If you or someone you know is sexually abused before they turn 18 in Missouri, they only have 10 years after their 21st birthday to file a civil lawsuit.
After that, there is no way for them to pursue justice civilly, but there is no statute of limitations on pursuing it criminally.
That’s because of the state’s statute of limitations on child victims of sexual abuse.
It seems like a long time, but the effects of sexual abuse, especially involving a child, last a lifetime.
So long, in fact, that there is really no way to know how many victims live their entire lives without ever saying a word about it.
Some turn from the once-promising youth students, athletes, outgoing, ambitious children into alternate versions of themselves seemingly without explanation.
And their friends and family are left to wonder what happened, and ache for the private pain they believe they feel, but refuse to share.
This week, 5 On Your Side brought you two stories involving allegations of child sexual abuse involving teenaged girls with connections to Kirkwood.
In one, 5 On Your Side’s PJ Randhawa chronicled the stories of women who said two teachers at Kirkwood High School appeared to have had sex with students during the 1980s and 1990s.
She interviewed several women who were abused by a teacher in the 1990s and one from the 1980s.
I wrote a story of allegations that a soccer coach for the Lou Fusz Athletic Club had sex with one of his 16-year-old players.
These two stories are likely to play out much differently because of the state’s statute of limitations law.
For the victims Randhawa interviewed, their 10 years have passed.
They didn’t file a police report when it happened – not uncommon, or surprising, for child victims.
So their abuser will not be publicly identified unless he is ever charged.
They won’t get their day in court, civilly, to talk about what happened to them.
They won’t get to see whether they could have proved their cases before a jury of their peers.
And their alleged abuser won’t get his day in court to try and prove his innocence and clear his name to those who undoubtedly know who he is.
For the victim at the center of the story I wrote, there could be a different outcome.
Police in Kirkwood and St. Charles County – where the alleged abuse took place – have already applied for warrants against the coach.
So, there are police reports. There are documents.
But the clock is already ticking for her to find the courage to not only go through the criminal process but the civil process as well if she so chooses.
All decisions she has to make at 16.
But some states have recognized how long it takes some victims to report their trauma.
This month marks 10 years since Florida passed laws to repeal both their civil and criminal statutes of limitation.
It was the first state to do so.
Since then, 10 states have repealed both civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex abuse victims, according to Child USA.
Missouri legislators have considered it.
But in May, a bill that may have changed the law on civil lawsuits didn't pass.
Some who believe the laws should be changed are trying to do so at the federal level.
Michael Dolce, who represents victims of sex abuse and who is himself a survivor, helped compel Florida’s legislature to change its laws and has recently asked Congress to expunge statutes of limitations on child sexual assault in an op-ed for Newsweek.
Meanwhile, I thought it was important to use this space this week to also publish ways victims, friends, families, parents or anyone concerned that abuse is taking place or has taken place can report it and let the justice system determine the truth.
Before the clock runs out.
Here are the resources:
The first step to reporting abuse is to contact your local police department.
Here are other ways to make reports anonymously to organizations that can help.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a CyberTipline at 800-843-5678.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-656-HOPE.
U.S. Center for SafeSport accepts complaints online or at (720) 531-0340.
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