The statutes often bar victims from seeking prosecution of their abusers as adults. Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, says changing the statute of limitations "has turned out to be the primary front for child sex abuse victims."
Hamilton, who represents plaintiffs in sexual abuse suits, says limits have already been lifted or eased in more than 30 states in criminal prosecutions of some type of abuse.
"Even when you have an institution admitting they knew about the abuse, the perpetrator admitting that he did it, and corroborating evidence, if the statute of limitations has expired, there won't be any justice," Hamilton told The New York Times.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has lobbied hard against such measures, arguing retroactive charges are aimed at bankrupting the church rather than seeking justice. In Colorado and New York, the church has hired high-priced lobbying and public relations firms to aid in the fight against such bills, while in other states bishops have personally pressed lawmakers to defer them.
Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, testified before the state Legislature in January in opposition to a proposal to abolish the statute of limitations in civil cases.
"How can an institution defend itself against a claim that is 40, 50 or 60 years old? Statutes of limitations exist because witnesses die and memories fade," Brannigan told the Legislature. "This bill would not protect a single child."