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Arkansas child sexual abuse survivors able to file civil claims at any age

Republican State Senator David Wallace announces new two-year window for survivors of child sex abuse to file civil claims.
Nathan Treece
/
Little Rock Public Radio
State Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, announces a new two-year window for survivors of child sex abuse to file civil claims.

Survivors of child sexual abuse in Arkansas have a new opportunity to seek civil justice against their abusers. State Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, held a press conference Tuesday morning announcing a new two-year “lookback window” that began February 1, allowing victims of any age to bring their claims forward.

This opportunity for claims comes on the heels of the first window's expiration on January 31, which was put in place under the Justice for Vulnerable Victims of Sexual Abuse Act introduced in 2021 by Wallace and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould.

"During the past two years, 2022 to 2024, more than 20 civil legal claims were filed on behalf of over 100 survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the state of Arkansas," Wallace said.

A major difference in the new two-year lookback window is that it allows survivors of any age to file civil claims, whereas the original window was only open to those aged 55 and under. Wallace said since the original bill was drafted, his office has been contacted by multiple individuals who were outside of the original age limit, which is why the second reporting window was amended to remove the maximum age limit.

Willam Stevens, a survivor of child sexual abuse, said the newly amended legislation will bring state law more in line with research on the psychology of sexual abuse reporting by victims.

"The average person reports that they suffered abuse as a child at about 52 years of age, and our society is only beginning now to understand the science and the psychology behind what is known as delayed disclosure," said Stevens.

According to research by SafeHome.org in 2021, Arkansas has the highest rate of reported sexual abuse of children in the nation and has the second highest number of registered sex offenders per 100,000 residents. In Arkansas, there is no statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of anyone charged with the rape or sexual assault of a minor.

Speaking to reporters after the press conference, Stevens said the lookback window made him and other victims feel seen.

"The one thing I've always had a 10-year-old version of myself asking is, 'When did we ever matter?' To the [Boy] Scouts we never did, but in Arkansas we now do."

Nathan Treece is a reporter and local host of NPR's Morning Edition for Little Rock Public Radio.