Utah Bill eliminating statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases passes House
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives unanimously passed HB277 Monday, which would eliminate the statute of limitations for lawsuits against perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
The bill, as amended by the House, applies only to perpetrators of child sex abuse as individuals.
Deondra Brown, co-founder of the nonprofit Foundation for Survivors of Abuse, was among a handful of supporters who sat with lawmakers as members of the House debated and voted on the bill. Other backers filled part of the House gallery.
The bill passed 74-0.
“It was so exciting for any of us who are victims to be able to see such support,” Brown said. “Today’s passage is another victory for victims across the state of Utah, so it’s an exciting day.”
The bill moves the Senate for its consideration.
Brown said she and her sister Desirae established their foundation to provide hope, encouragement and empowerment to survivors of abuse by working to remove the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse.
Three Brown sisters, members of the 5 Browns classical piano quintet, were molested by their father as children. In 2010, the siblings sought criminal charges against their father, who had also been their professional manager.
In March 2011, Keith Brown was sentenced to 10 years to life for sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony, and one to 15 years each of two counts of sex abuse of a child, a second-degree felony. The sodomy and abuse incidents occurred when each of the girls was 13 or younger.
Deondra Brown also has testified at committee meetings as the bill has gone through the legislative process.
Each time she and her sisters have shared their experiences, they are contacted by other people who have experienced sexual abuse as children, who offer their support and thanks to the Browns for their advocacy work.
“It sort of lifts you through the difficult times,” she said. As a mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Brown said she feels an even greater responsibility to help protect children by raising awareness and working to pass legislation that holds people who molest children to account.
She called the birth of her child a “huge blessing.” “I look at her and I’m constantly reminded why I’m doing this,” she said. “I look at my daughter and think, ‘I’m doing this for you so the world is safer.’”
Bill sponsor Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, whose wife Rebecca testified to the House Judiciary Committee that she was sexually abused by a school teacher during her childhood, told House members that the emotional scars of child sexual abuse “never fully heal.”
Innocent victims end up paying the price of molestation for a lifetime in term of lost productivity, the toll on their mental and physical health and challenges it presents in their personal relationships, he said.
Ivory said the statute of limitations for lawsuits needs to be eliminated to allow victims of child sexual abuse time to heal and gain the courage and maturity to hold their abusers to account.
On average, it takes a victim until to age 40 to come forward with allegations of child sexual abuse. It can take decades to overcome feelings of shame, humiliation and even fear of retribution, he said.
Current law limits civil actions to four years after a victim’s 18th birthday or if older, within four years of discovering the abuse.
“It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. When it comes to abuse of children, justice not delayed is justice denied,” Ivory said.
Brown said she looks forward to the Utah Senate’s consideration of the bill. “Hopefully this is going all the way to the governor’s desk,” she said.