A time stamp on justice: Could Oklahoma go further with adjustments to statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases?

·5 min read

Oct. 16—Child sexual abuse survivors, lawmakers and advocates are pushing to eliminate or adjust the statute of limitations in Oklahoma. The statute of limitations sets a deadline for when a victim can sue or press charges against their abuser.

Michelle was sexually abused by her father Joseph Rood. She came forward and reported the abuse in 2019 at the age of 31, but her case wasn't able to be prosecuted because it was outside the statute of limitations. Because Rood abused multiple kids, he was convicted in September.

"In my case, specifically, he is still being charged and jailed and the chances of him doing this again are slim to none," she said. "But not all child molesters and sexual predators choose multiple victims. Not every case has a backup victim(s) that is inside the statute of limitations."

Kathryn Robb, Executive Director at CHILD USAdvocacy, has been advocating for eliminating or adjusting the statute of limitations for several years. She said 15 states and Guam have eliminated the statute of limitations, so far.

Since 2017, the statute of limitations in Oklahoma for both criminal and civil cases of child sexual abuse is that a child victim can report up until the age of 45.

How Oklahoma compares

Robb said Oklahoma is behind, and called the policy Oklahoma has for the statute of limitations for civil cases "tragic."

"For right now, Oklahoma has a statute of limitations we're just talking about civil statute limitations, so there's civil limitations for a claim against the perpetrator, is age 45. So that's well below the science of traumatology and the science of delayed disclosure. Well below age 52, by the way, there's a fairly large group of people that take their secret to their grave," she said. "Then against other non perpetrator defendants ... so that would be institutions, organizations, whether they be charitable, non charitable, public or private ... the age is 20, that is tragic for Oklahoma."

In 2021, Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa) introduced HB1002 to the legislature. The bill would eliminate the civil SOL for child sexual abuse or exploitation against perpetrators and other individuals, while extending the age to 45 against institutions, or five years from discovery of the abuse. It would also open a five-year revival window for all expired claims.

The bill passed the House in March but was never heard by the Senate. Bush is looking at changing language in the bill to see if it can make it out of both chambers. She said there isn't anything concrete right now.

Bush has a long history of advocating for survivors through law. She authored the Hidden Predator Act in 2017, which modified time limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse and changed the age to 45-years-old.

Payne County Assistant District Attorney Debra Vincent said when looking at prosecution and seeing what SOL applies, "prosecutors are required to use the limitation period that was in effect at the time the crime was committed, regardless of any later amendments."

Eliminating SOL

Robb said she believes the SOL does have a purpose, but like Bush she'd like to see it eliminated.

"I believe in due process, I believe the statute of limitations has a purpose. But all rules have exceptions. And again, those exceptions are based on common sense, justice, sound public policy and fairness," Robb said. "And I think exposing hidden predators ... You know, we're talking about the rape of children, plain and simple. And this is something that stays with them, their lifetime ... to think about the burden of all of that and stress on kids, and the costs it creates for society."

Bush said she thinks eliminating the SOL in Oklahoma could be deemed unconstitutional in some ways.

"So, if the statute of limitations at the time was, let's say 45 years and you're now 50 and we eliminate the statute of limitations, this would allow the opportunity — usually it's a year or two, maybe three year windows is what they call it — where you can go back in time and try to bring justice. That's probably going to be unconstitutional the way Oklahoma's law is written," Bush said. "In many states it is unconstitutional so by putting it in legislation, it gives us an opportunity to get a Supreme Court ruling, and that they would possibly come back and say 'hey, yeah, this is unconstitutional' but something needs to be done. It's kind of what they did in Utah."

Utah eliminated the statute of limitations for criminal cases in 2013, and passed HB277 which eliminated the deadline for civil cases in 2017.

Robb said she would tell lawmakers this crime is a silent epidemic that affects over 13% of kids.

"And I would say to lawmakers, you make public policy and create law, do it. Do it to protect your constituents, protect the people of Oklahoma," she said. "We're talking about the rape of children there are things that you can do, and by the way, Oklahoma is way behind."

Message to survivors

Bush said she believes HB1002 or something similar would offer hope to survivors.

"Well I think it gives them hope that they do matter. And for those that want to, can come forward and confront their abusers and hopefully stop the abuse from happening," she said. "It's the hope of being able to since they know they haven't had the opportunity. It's kind of interesting just having a glimmer of hope that maybe one day this can happen."

Michelle would like the SOL to be eliminated because survivors shouldn't be forced to put a time stamp on justice.

"I would just like to say that there shouldn't be a time stamp on justice," Michelle said. "If I had been the only victim, he would still be free to do this again."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting