We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are troubled by New Jersey’s insufficient two-year civil statute of limitations for survivors of sexual assault. We know that sexual assault can result in victims needing time – in many instances, years or even decades – to process the traumatic events that happened to them. We also know that time is not currently afforded to the 1.8M survivors of sexual assault who call New Jersey their home, and we believe that is a deep injustice.
Research has shown time and time again that it’s incredibly common, given the nature of trauma, for survivors to delay reporting acts of sexual assault. One study of female adult survivors of child sexual abuse found that nearly half (47 percent) did not disclose the abuse to anyone for over five years. Another study in Germany that used data from a sexual assault hotline found the average age of callers was 52 years old – and that male callers tended to be older than female callers. N.J.’s two year civil statute is simply out of line with the best available research on trauma and delayed disclosures – and out of step with other state policy. Since 2002, the year that statutes of limitations for sexual assault began receiving increased attention following the Boston Globe’s Spotlight reporting, 80 percent of states have amended their criminal or civil statutes of limitations for sexual assault. New Jersey is not one of them.
As experts who work with survivors of violence and individuals who care for them, we also know that no two victims have the same needs. That includes how they choose to pursue justice. Many will access the criminal justice system; others will seek remedy through the institutions in which they were harmed (be it a school / university, workplace, or other system). And many will want to pursue justice through the civil justice system. Sexual violence has physical, emotional, and financial impacts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the lifetime cost of sexual violence to be $122,461 per victim. One important aspect of post-care for survivors of sexual violence is allowing them to retain control in decision making about treatment, reporting, and justice outcomes. Our outdated civil statute removes that aspect of control for too many survivors.
But we can right this egregious wrong. We call on the Legislature to act for justice and pass S477 / A3648, which would provide survivors more time to access the civil justice system. This is a trauma-informed, common-sense next step to best serve victims of sexual violence in New Jersey. Our lawmakers recognized this great need once before, eliminating our state’s criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault. Now we must take the next step to best serve survivors of sexual assault in our state.
Respectfully submitted, The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, joined by: