Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan) has pre-filed a bill that will allow civil claims for child sexual abuse to be commenced at any time.
Guerrero told Saipan Tribune yesterday that he “recycled” the bill of former Saipan senator Sixto Igisomar, who introduced it in 2019. The Senate passed Igisomar’s bill in April 2020 and it was subsequently transmitted to the House of Representatives for action but later voted to recall the bill.
Guerrero said the statute of limitations is not fair to victims of sexual abuse. “These perpetrators should be put on the spot,” the lawmaker said.
Guerrero stated in H.B. 22-2 that sexual crimes committed against persons under the age of 18 are very sensitive cases that can severely traumatize young victims. Oftentimes, he said, these incidents are left unreported due to the victim’s fear of revealing such disturbing information, threats made by the abuser, or familial connections to the abuser. For many child victims, he said, the trauma itself prevents them from coming forward earlier. As adults, the lawmaker said, victims may not connect the assault to its long-lasting impact until they seek therapeutic help years later, often referred to as delayed discovery.
He said criminal prosecution is not barred by a statute of limitations and prosecution may be pursued at any time for a case in which an adult discovers that he or she was a victim of sexual abuse as a child under the age of 18. Guerrero said the criminal prosecution option remains open regardless of the passage of time, pursuant to the Commonwealth Code.
However, he said, the same option is not available for civil cases involving sexual abuse of victims that occurred when they were under 18 years of age. Most such victims, however, only realize or discover the sexual abuse during their adulthood, after more than six years have elapsed. This type of case, he said, if pursued through civil litigation, is barred by the current six-year statute of limitation under 7 CMC Section 2505.
He said the expiration of applicable statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims during this period result in barring many meritorious civil claims. Guerrero said this has allowed many child sexual abusers to escape civil liability.
“If evidence is sufficient to prove civil liability, the mere passage of time should not prevent child sexual abuse victims from seeking justice,” he said.
The lawmaker said his bill would amend Title 7 of the Commonwealth Code to add a new section to authorize civil claims for child sexual abuse to be commenced at any time. The new section states that “any claim arising from an incident of child sexual abuse may be commenced against a person, a legal entity, abusers, their enablers, their aiders or abettors, or those acting in concert with them and their institutions at any time.”
The new section also states that “any claim arising from an incident of child sexual abuse that occurred in the [CNMI] which has been barred by virtue of the expiration of the previous civil statute of limitations shall be permitted to be filed in any court of competent jurisdiction.”
Guerrero filed the bill last Jan. 22. Reps. Denita Yangetmai (D-Saipan), Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan), vice speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan), and five others co-authored the bill.