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Iowa Dems seek to end statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Iowa has one of the nation’s most restrictive laws for when an individual can file civil claims concerning sexual abuse of a child.

Statehouse Democrats are pushing to change that.

Last year, Iowa repealed its statute of limitations on criminal charges for child sex abuse. But that new law did not include a similar repeal of the statute of limitations on civil claims, under which victims can seek financial damages.

At this time, an Iowan has until his or her 19th birthday to file civil claims for child sexual abuse.

That makes Iowa one of 11 states that caps the time when an individual can file civil claims at 25 years old or younger, according to the national advocacy organization Child USA.

A dozen states have no statute of limitations on civil claims for child sex abuse, according to Child USA.

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing their Republican colleagues — who are in the agenda-setting majorities in both chambers of the Iowa Legislature — to pass legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on civil claims over child sex abuse.

Sen. Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, said state lawmakers could be passing legislation while the Legislature is held up due to Republicans negotiating over the final bills of this year’s session.

“This is the perfect time for the two parties to come together and get rid of our worst-in-the-nation ranking for child sex abuse,” Petersen said recently on the Iowa Senate floor. “We have a bill that’s ready to go.”

Democrats proposed Senate File 32, but it has received no legislative attention this session. The spokesman for Senate Republican leadership did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Petersen in her floor remarks referred to an opinion piece co-written by Kylie DeWees, who is an Iowan, a law student and a survivor of child sexual abuse. DeWees’ piece appeared in The Gazette.

“(DeWees) would have more rights in 44 other states to go after her abuser for something as simple as even paying her therapy expenses,” Petersen said. “But in Iowa, she has no justice, no access to the courts.”

In the opinion piece — co-written with Kathryn Robb, executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy and also a survivor of child sex abuse — DeWees and Robb argue that the statute of limitations on civil claims provides shelter for some perpetrators of child sex abuse, because not all cases are tried criminally.

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