Lawmakers weigh bill easing sex abuse statute of limitations

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey may soon open up a door for more victims of child sex abuse to come forward. Currently, you can only file a civil suit for two years after discovery of the crime, or for two years after you turn 18.

Thursday, victims of admitted abuser and Olympic doctor Larry Nassar came forward to urge action.

"He abused me under the guise of medical treatment," said survivor Sarah Klein.

Klein is a former gymnast who was abused by Nassar three to four times a week for 17 years, beginning when she was eight.

"I was an Ivy League graduate, a first year law student, 25 years old, and still being penetrated anally and vaginally by Dr. Larry Nassar because it was all I had ever known," she said.

The Fortney sisters also testified in favor of the bill. Six of them were terrorized by Catholic priest Augustine Giella as children.

"Among the evidence found at a Giella's house were Petri dishes containing our feces, our pubic hair labeled with initials, dirty used tampons, soiled children's underwear and hundreds of pictures of naked children that haven’t been identified to this very day," Patty Fortney-Julios said.

They are just some of those who testified gruesome accounts of abuse today. But many are still silent, paralyzed by fear.

For that reason, survivors say two years to a civil claim is not enough.

"It does not come to you within two years to even understand what happened to you," said another Nassar survivor, Jessica Howard. "Especially if it happened to you as a child."

The bill pending before New Jersey lawmakers (S477) would change the statute of limitations from two years to seven years or until a victim’s 55th birthday, whichever is later.

Anyone whose statute of limitations has already expired will get a new two year window to file a civil suit.

The Catholic Church testified against this.

"We agree with the intent in S477, we differ on the approach," said Pat Brannigan of the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

The Church has set up a fund to compensate victims.

Others testifying against this bill said it would hurt charities, institutions and businesses whose employees or volunteers did not knowingly partake in a cover up.

There was also a concern about an avalanche of lawsuits.

Lawmakers decided to pass the bill anyway.

The full senate will still need to vote on this bill. If passed by the assembly and signed, it would become effective immediately.

"New Jersey has the worst civil statutes of limitations in the country," said Marci Hamilton, survivor and head of CHILD USAdvocacy. "The two year limit means the vast majority of your victims in this state have had no chance at justice."

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.