The thought of anyone sexually abusing a child is horrific, but the reality is that it happens every 9 minutes in the United States. What’s worse is that only five out of every 1,000 of their abusers will answer for their crime. The vast majority get away with it, but the children they’ve abused live with the physical, mental and emotional toll for the rest of their lives.
Most child sexual abuse survivors don’t come forward for various reasons; perhaps they are ashamed into believing the abuse was their fault, afraid of punishment or being dismissed, or unable to even realize they were abused. These feelings are hard enough for an adult to manage, so it’s no wonder that most child sexual abuse survivors who wait to report their abuse are over 50 years old.
Before the passage of Louisiana’s lookback window law in 2021, a child sex abuse survivor who decided to report the abuse as an adult could not file a lawsuit against their perpetrator past age 28.
The new law, introduced into the Louisiana State Legislature by Rep. Jason Hughes (D-New Orleans) as House Bill 492, was prompted by the rampant clergy sex abuse in Louisiana’s Catholic churches. More than 200 clergy members and staff in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have been accused of sexual abuse, making it one of the most prominent clergy sex abuse offenders in the nation.
HB 492 allowed abuse survivors under 28 years old to bring civil litigation against their abusers, no matter how long ago it happened. Those older than 28 who previously attempted to file a claim were granted a three-year “lookback window” to re-open their cases. Victims were given until June 14, 2024, to file a civil lawsuit and seek financial compensation.
After HB 492 was enacted, the Catholic Church, catholic schools, religious orders, insurance companies, lobbyists, and the alleged abusers’ defense attorneys began objecting in droves. They argued that because HB 492 referenced the 1993 statute, the new lookback window could only apply to abuse committed since that time.
After lower state courts made varying decisions on this argument, the state legislature shut it down by unanimously passing into law an updated bill in June 2022. HB 402 allows any victim of any age to sue over their abuse until the 2024 deadline.
Now, the Louisiana lookback window law is being challenged again. This time, the Louisiana Supreme Court will decide its future.
Sex Abuse Lookback Laws Are Increasing Nationwide
Louisiana’s lookback law was among the first to inspire a national trend of similar legislation nationwide.
More than 30 U.S. jurisdictions have enacted similar laws, most of which have successfully revived claims previously prohibited by statutes of limitation. The constitutionality of these sex abuse lookback laws has been challenged in many states, and most have ruled to uphold it.
Louisiana’s lookback law now faces its greatest constitutionality challenge in the case of T.S. v. Congregation of Holy Cross Southern Province. The state’s highest court will likely make a final ruling this summer. Their decision could affect every sex abuse case filed since the law took effect, along with the fate of future lawsuits.
Because criminal courts rarely convict sexual abusers, a civil lawsuit is a survivor’s best chance at justice. Civil cases also have a lower burden of proof than criminal cases, often resulting in a better outcome than victims who attempt to secure a criminal conviction. Every successful sex abuse lawsuit is a message to would-be perpetrators that their actions can have consequences.
If you or someone you know survived childhood sex abuse, it’s not too late to come forward. The sexual abuse attorneys at Herman Herman & Katz have experience in these cases and can walk survivors through every step with total sensitivity and confidentiality before the June 14, 2024, deadline. We can help you secure compensation for medical or therapy bills, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and more. Please call us at 844-943-7626 or use our online contact form for more information or to arrange a confidential case consultation.
Soren E. Gisleson, is a Partner at Herman, Herman & Katz, L.L.C. and attorney advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.