A new Iowa law eliminates the statute of limitations to bring criminal charges for several sexual abuse-related crimes committed against minors.
“Today, Iowa stands in support of survivors of sexual violence as we become the 14th state to eliminate the statute of limitations for these heinous crimes,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement after signing the bill Wednesday.
The new law, Senate File 562, will eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes against children under 18, including sexual abuse, incest, sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Iowa law previously barred charges for those crimes from being brought after either 10 or 15 years had passed since a minor turned 18 years old, depending on the crime. Charges could also come up to three years after an offender was identified through a DNA profile, if that date came after the other statute of limitations period.
While the new law eliminates the statute for criminal charges, it does not eliminate the state’s statute of limitations for bringing a civil claim. Currently, Iowans have up to a year after they turn 18 to file a lawsuit over abuse they experienced as minors. If the abuse was by a counselor, therapist or school employee, survivors can file claims up to five years after they are no longer enrolled at the school or receiving treatment from the therapist or counselor.
Iowa law also allows victims to file suit up to four years after discovering injuries related to the previous abuse, if the discovery comes after they turn 18.
In addition to eliminating the criminal statute of limitations, the law also creates a new criminal offense of sexual exploitation by an adult providing training or instruction, which it defines as a non-school adult employee providing paid training or instruction to a minor outside of a school setting. The charge could be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the severity.
‘I pray this will help to restore their power’
Reynolds in her news release thanked Kimberly Gleason, a survivor of sexual abuse as a child and an advocate for the legislation.
“Without her bravery and the willingness of so many other survivors to come forward, we wouldn’t be able to hold more abusers accountable for their crimes,” Reynolds said.
Gleason in a statement said she was glad to see the law pass and that “the trauma that victims of child sex abuse endure will no longer outlive their ability to pursue criminal charges against their offenders.”
“Even if a victim does not choose to pursue criminal charges, I pray this will help to restore their power, and may it lead them to find their voice,” Gleason said.
The law had bipartisan support in the Legislature, passing unanimously in the Iowa Senate and by an 84-2 vote in the House.
During House debate Friday, Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, said that passing the bill was “the right thing to do.”
“By removing the criminal statues of limitation for crimes involving sexual abuse of minors we help protect others and we give victims a voice,” he said.
Rep. Cherielynn Westrich, R-Ottumwa, said during debate that she was abused by a babysitter as a child, and while she told her parents at the time, it was years before she could speak openly about the experience.
“This is the first time I’m really speaking about this in a public forum, and it’s difficult,” she said. “I think we need to support those victims who find the courage to speak out, who find the courage to come forward, no matter how long it takes them.”
Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, suggested that to further assist victims, Iowa should also lengthen the civil statute of limitations for child abuse cases. Lohse said he’s open to having conversations about extending or eliminating the civil statute of limitations next year.