Senate Democrats will propose legislation in the 2020 legislative session to extend the statute of limitations for civil sexual assault cases.
“For far too long in our state, our civil court system has denied access to justice for victims of sexual abuse,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, adding that the proposal would “make sure that all victims of sexual abuse, regardless of how long ago that abuse occurred, can come forward and make their case, and if the evidence is there, they will get justice.”
Flexer introduced the legislative proposal alongside a slew of other initiatives presented by Senate Democrats Tuesday. Additional proposals include the creation of a new state police department to investigate hate crimes and far right extremists, protections for net neutrality to ensure the internet remains free and open, and increasing voters’ access to absentee ballots.
Flexer’s measure was first endorsed by a task force that lawmakers created last session. That task force, which was led by Flexer, unanimously recommended lawmakers eliminate the statute of limitations in civil cases involving sexual abuse, exploitation and assault. Lawmakers said it is unclear whether the final legislative proposal will extend the statute indefinitely, as the bill has not yet been written. Currently, the law allows child sex abuse survivors to come forward until age 51, despite that the average age of disclosure is 54, according to the task force.
The effort is part of a broader push to ensure Connecticut’s civil court system stands with sexual and domestic assault survivors.
“We have heard for many years the harrowing stories of these victims, people who have come forward, not just to help themselves, but to demonstrate how unjust our current law in Connecticut is, and to ask for a change,” Flexer said.
The legislation would also charge advocates and judicial experts with creating uniform family court procedures to better protect survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Such a plan would require the Judicial Branch to train judges to be more sensitive to the needs of survivors and their children.
“It’s time for Connecticut to have uniformity in terms of the level of knowledge and competency of all judges, so that when a victim presents herself in a court anywhere in the state of Connecticut, she knows she’s going to get the same treatment,” said Flexer.
The current training system, Flexer explained, can lead to different outcomes in different cases. She said she has heard of judges who question survivors in front of their abusers when they are seeking a restraining order, a problematic practice that can put survivors’ lives at risk.
“These uniform practices, I believe, will save lives,” Flexer said. “And frankly, I’m tired of talking about this issue. We’ve been trying to reform training for judges for almost a decade and I’m hopeful that, thanks to the leadership of the Senate Democratic caucus, that will finally happen this year.”
The so-called “bench book” would give judges a template to follow when they’re dealing with cases involving sexual or domestic abuse.