Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a bill that will give victims of childhood sexual abuse by clergy members and others much more power to seek justice.
House Bill 492 was approved last week by the state legislature, and the governor signed it into law on June 14. The bill eradicates the deadline for sex abuse victims to seek damages and establishes a three-year window where all unresolved claims, no matter how long ago they were made, can also be pursued. The new law will take effect on August 1.
Rep. Jason Hughes (D-New Orleans) sponsored the bill, which drew wide support from victims and their advocates, particularly those abused by trusted Catholic leaders and clergy in churches and dioceses across Louisiana.
“House Bill 492 will never cure the pain of victims; however, it gives them a chance to achieve justice and hopefully some sense of closure,” said Hughes in a statement after the session concluded. “This bill will send a powerful message to every vicious predator that child sex abuse is unconscionable and will not be tolerated or condoned in Louisiana.”
A previous law from 1993 did not allow victims to bring litigation past their 28th birthdays. HB492 will allow those under 28 years old to do so without a statute of limitations. Those over 28 will have a three-year “lookback window” to reconcile their existing cases. Hughes’ research discovered that the average age of victims who come forward is more than 50.
The bill faced challenges during the approval process. Fearing what Hughes said were fights with insurance companies, the House wanted to scrap the lookback window and not allow victims over 53 to pursue litigation, but the Senate added those benefits back. In the end, both the House and Senate approved it unanimously.
Rampant sex abuse perpetrated by clergy members across the country was first revealed in 2002 by the Boston Globe. However, those clergy members received a slap essentially on the wrist before being reinstated. Bishops did and still cover up the abuse, resulting in a lack of details about thousands of cases that may just now come to light with the passage of HB492.
Louisiana is home to one of the largest offenders in clergy sex scandals, the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The Archdiocese is the largest known employer of pedophiles in New Orleans’ 300-year history, with more than 200 clergy and employees who have had credible sexual abuse allegations made against them.
To gain the protection that would make them immune to future lawsuits, the Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for and was granted bankruptcy in 2020. Childhood sexual abuse victims within that specific archdiocese were only given until March 2021 to file claims. But the bill is still a historic win for victims whose experiences, church or otherwise, have permanently harmed them.
The Effects of Child Sex Abuse
A child is sexually abused every nine minutes in the U.S., but just five out of every 1,000 abusers will be convicted. Most perpetrators face no consequences and go on about their lives, but the children they abused cannot escape the resulting trauma. Victims of child sex abuse are often stricken with a myriad of destructive effects, including but certainly not limited to:
- Drug and alcohol addiction
- Self-harming behaviors
- Lack of self-esteem
- Inability to form healthy relationships
A 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that while there was no real difference in psychological effects whether victims were abused by religious mentors or someone else, both groups’ long-term damage played a significant role in their quality of life. Researchers consistently found evidence of weakened faith and learned helplessness, along with many other traits listed above. Even that 13-year-old study concluded that the statutes of limitations that existed at that time were “inadvertently helping the abuser.”
There are many local and federal organizations devoted to supporting and advocating for the abused. The New Orleans Family Justice Center specializes in counseling and education on pursuing justice, while the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault runs a state crisis hotline that can connect you to a support center near you.
If you or a loved one is a victim of childhood sex abuse, even if you never reported it, a competent legal team can help you navigate the changing laws of the sexual abuse justice system. The attorneys at Herman Herman & Katz have experience in these very delicate cases and will walk you through every step. Your comfort and safety are our priority, and we will keep your identity confidential while you pursue the justice that should have been yours long ago. For more information or a free case consultation, call us at 844-943-7626 or contact us online anytime.
Soren E. Gisleson, is a Partner at Herman, Herman & Katz, L.L.C. and attorney advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.