On the eve of the impending release of a Maryland Attorney General’s report about sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Maryland State Senate voted 10-1 to approve a new bill called the Child Victims Act of 2023. The proposed law would eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual abuse civil lawsuits. If enacted, this law would allow child sexual abuse survivors to take legal action, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
Why is this bill moving forward when others have not?
Since the last time the Maryland Legislature tried to pass legislation for sex abuse survivors, much has changed. Civil windows in New York, New Jersey, and California have exposed tens of thousands of abusers—clergy and non-clergy—nationwide. In addition, more than 80,000 sexual abuse survivors in the Boy Scouts of America have come forward as a part of that organization’s recent bankruptcy. Many of those survivors came from Maryland. And, finally, a four-year long investigation by the Maryland Attorney General’s office, beginning in 2019, accused approximately 160 priests of abusing over 600 children during an 80-year period.
What is the next step for the bill?
The law now moves on to the House, a legislative body that has been known to pass survivor-friendly laws. Despite this, proponents for the bill are expecting an uphill battle—the Maryland Catholic Conference (the lobbying group for Catholic bishops in that state) and the Archdiocese of Baltimore have openly stated their opposition to the bill due to the expected onslaught of sex abuse lawsuits by Maryland’s survivors.
What is special about this law?
Previous civil “look back” windows in California, New York, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Delaware had time limits—anywhere from one to three years. The Maryland law would completely eliminate the statute of limitations, allowing survivors of sexual abuse to come forward when they are ready and not under any kind of time constraint. This type of law is considered one of the most survivor-friendly and trauma-informed laws recently proposed.
What is the State Attorney General Report?
The Maryland State Attorney General commissioned an investigation and report into child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The 436-page report, completed in 2022, has remained under seal. This week, a judge approved the release of the report, which identifies 158 Archdiocese of Baltimore priests accused of abusing more than 600 children over the past 80 years. Although the judge has ordered the release, at this writing, no date for that release has been announced.