Louisiana’s Revised Statute of Limitations Offers Justice for Older Adults Subjected to Sexual Abuse as Children

by Frank E. Lamothe, III

Often referred to as the “Lookback Window,” Louisiana Legislature Act 386 opens a brief timeframe for survivors of child sexual assault to bring claims against their perpetrator(s), regardless of how much time has passed.

This legislation marked a resounding victory for survivors of child clergy sexual abuse, offering them a clear path to pursue justice and further healing. However, this window won’t be open indefinitely (just three years from 2021), leaving us with many unanswered questions, including how to protect survivors who fall outside that timeframe. And whether the legislative intent behind this act justifies a permanent removal of the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse.

Here’s a look at the science driving the Lookback Window’s passage and why Louisiana legislators might want to make these revisions permanent for survivors of child sexual abuse.

A Statute of Limitations for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Doesn’t Make Sense

Prior to passing the Lookback Window Act, Louisiana required survivors of child sexual assault to initiate claims no later than their 28th birthday. Any complaints filed after that time would be dismissed.

Time restrictions like this are known as a statute of limitations and are generally seen as a good thing, as they protect would-be defendants against unfair claims where evidence, witness memory, and relevancy have long since expired. However, as the rampant suppression of child sexual assault cases within the Catholic Church has recently shown us, these restrictions don’t always work as intended.

Survivors of child sexual assault often face a number of unique physical and mental challenges, which cause significant delays in disclosing their abuse.

A Lack of Education, Understanding, and Intense Emotional Manipulation Responsible for Disclosure Delays

A child experiencing sexual abuse is on the wrong end of a wildly skewed power dynamic, which is why some of the biggest reasons for disclosure delays revolve around age.

Most children don’t understand what sexual abuse is, and few can recognize it in an everyday situation. This makes them susceptible to an adult’s arsenal of doubt, fear, guilt, and shame—especially if that adult is a religious leader. These children might feel something is wrong but can’t articulate exactly what. And this lack of understanding—combined with significant emotional manipulation—means that most survivors never end up reporting their abuse.

Unfortunately, those who do usually aren’t taken seriously and are often subjected to so much doubt and gaslighting they eventually stop trying.

The physiological effects of this physical and mental abuse are so long-lasting that by the time most child survivors find the courage to break their silence, the statute of limitations has already passed.

Recollection and Memory Suppression Also Cause Disclosure Delays

Memory poses another significant barrier to disclosure—both in terms of suppression and inaccurate recollection. This is caused by the brain’s trauma defense, which protects a person from the full intensity of their situation until they’re in a better position to process it.

Children who experience sexual abuse often describe this disassociation as an out-of-body experience. Many remember looking down on the scene from above. Some describe it as an imaginary place that is completely removed from reality. Others can’t remember anything at all until much later in life.

The unconscious re-forming of these fragmented, detached memories doesn’t follow a specific timeline but can be lengthy. Recent studies show the average time it takes a child to report their abuse is 52 years—far surpassing their 28th birthday. Which begs the question: who does a statute of limitations really protect?

And, perhaps more importantly, should Lookback Window benefits be extended indefinitely?

The Lookback Window Provides a Path to Justice for Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Our scientific understanding of how trauma affects survivors of childhood sexual abuse increases every day. As it does, laws will be updated to protect survivors from suffering under outdated restrictions. In the meantime, the Lookback Window is a ground-breaking step in the right direction.

If you experienced clerical sexual abuse as a child and want to know how the Lookback Window can help you as an adult, we want to hear from you. Contact the Lamothe Law Firm today for a free consultation, and let our compassionate, experienced attorneys handle your story with the respect and deference you deserve.

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