A recent Pennsylvania grand jury report described internal documents from six Catholic dioceses revealing that more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children over the course of several decades. Since its publication, the contents of this report have stirred widespread public outrage and reignited demands seeking justice for victims. While the report has brought these issues to the forefront yet again, it is unlikely to lead to any new criminal or civil consequences for the accused priests under current law.
Our firm represents clients on similar cases, including filings against the Darlington School in Rome, Ga, the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council, and several North Georgia churches.
Further, statistics indicate that incidents of child sexual abuse are more prevalent than ever:
- The U.S. Department of Justice reports only 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities.
- 69,939 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012. 34% were younger than 9 years old.
- 28% of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.
Why is The Statute of Limitations Important in These Cases?
Most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not disclose the abuse until they reach adulthood. While the average time it takes a victim of abuse to disclose such abuse is nearly 20 years, others never disclose the abuse at all. There are many reasons why children delay or refrain from disclosing abuse: failing to realize the magnitude of the offense, feeling embarrassed, feeling that they will not be believed or taken seriously, and fearing that nothing will change if they do tell someone.
Many states have passed laws extending the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers and the entities that harbor them.
Under current Georgia law, legal actions against entities who knowingly harbored sexual predators must be filed before the plaintiff reaches the age of 31 years old. However, a victim must also file suit before 12 years from the date of when the entity’s illegal actions occurred. Given that a large portion of victims of childhood sexual abuse wait decades to disclose, the current law is clearly insufficient for many seeking justice.
Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act
In early 2018, revisions to the Hidden Predator Act (HPA, HB605) were introduced in the Georgia Legislature to allow more victims to seek justice. Proposed amendments to the law included:
- Extending the age limit for filing lawsuits to 38 years;
- Extending the discovery period to 8 years; and
- Creating a one-year open window for victims to sue entities that
- knowingly harbored their sexual abuser(s).
The Georgia Senate failed to reach a consensus regarding amendments to the Hidden Predator Act, and the additional protections were ultimately excluded.
- The bill unanimously passed in the House, but the legislation died in the Senate after extensive lobbying and opposition.
- The majority of this opposition was spearheaded by the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church.
- When the Legislative Session ended, the bill had been amended to include an extension of the statute of limitations allowing victims to file suit before reaching 31 years of age.
A similar bill is expected to be introduced again during Georgia’s 2019 Legislative Session. By this point, many hope the bill will gain the Catholic Church’s support. In a recent letter sent to area Catholics in response to the Pennsylvania scandal, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stated, “All Catholics, including so many good and generous priests, are rightly angered, confused, and embarrassed by this testimony that the leadership of the church failed to care for our people with compassion and honesty.”
We will hold Archbishop Gregory to his pledge to take whatever next steps “are necessary to ensure vigilance and accountability and to foster healing.”
We call upon the community to help us to ensure the Hidden Predator Act is successful in 2019 and that protections seeking to foster the healing of sexual abuse victims in Georgia will finally be implemented.