• Bill would extend statute of limitations for child sex crimes
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     | April 26,2013
     

    A bill introduced by Sen. Richard Sears would extend the age at which Vermonters who were sexually abused as children could report the allegations for possible prosecution.

    But the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he doesn’t believe the bill will be taken up in the House until the next legislative session.

    Sears, a Democrat from Bennington County, said the bill, which would extend the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes involving child victims, was written after he spoke with prosecutors at the Bennington County state’s attorney’s office, including Christina Rainville, the chief deputy.

    Sears said one of the arguments he found most effective involved the prosecution of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky last year. Based on the ages of the victims who came forward, authorities would only have been able to file charges on behalf of six of the eight men who testified if the incidents had happened in Vermont,

    Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and sentenced to serve 30 to 60 years.

    The bill that Sears, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, created would amend the laws for sexual assault, lewd and lascivious conduct, sexual exploitation of a minor and lewd or lascivious conduct with a child in cases where the victim was younger than 18 so they can be reported anytime until the victim is 40. As the laws are now written, the reporting must be before the victim reaches 24 or within 10 years of the time the incident is reported.

    “We went with 40 because we felt that if you hadn’t reported it by then, it would be difficult to prosecute at any rate,” Sears said.

    While the bill was passed unanimously by the Senate, it has been in the House Judiciary Committee since March 26.

    Rep. William Lippert, a Democrat from Chittenden County who is chairman of the committee, said he didn’t expect the bill would be taken up until the first half of the next legislative session in 2014. This term, the committee has been busy with the end-of-life law, the genetically modified organism issue and other complicated issues.

    “We have not had a chance to take (S.20) up yet. That’s not, however, necessarily a reflection of either my own position or (the positions of other) committee members, but it’s really a matter of workload. We have a great deal on our plate,” he said.

    Rainville, who has prosecuted many cases of sexual abuse with child victims, said the bill was important because it would allow law-enforcement to protect today’s children.

    “If we know that someone had committed crimes against children 15, 20 years ago and we see that person hanging out with children (now) we can do nothing to protect those children,” she said.

    Rainville said that many young victims of sexual abuse never come forward. Others come forward only when they themselves have children or when they learn that their abuser is still having contact with children.

    As a result, Rainville said it was important to protect the rights of a person to bring forward an accusation that can be investigated and prosecuted because late reporting is very common.

    Sears said he didn’t think the bill would take long to support if it’s brought forward.

    “We always say, ‘You should never say it’s a simple bill,’ but it really is a pretty simple concept: What should be the statute of limitations for reporting child sexual abuse,” he said.

    patrick.mcardle@rutlandherald.com

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