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State legislators seek to strengthen sexual assault laws

Survivors of sexual assault and their allies are pushing for changes to Connecticut law that would remove or lengthen the statutes of limitations for reporting and taking legal action on a broad range of sex crimes. Connecticut currently has among the strictest statutes of limitations in the country.

Among the changes in the proposed legislation is the elimination of a statute of limitations on felonies including forced rape and rape that involves drug or false medical pretense. Currently, these offenses have a five-year statute of limitations. Other proposals would increase the statute of limitations on forced sexual conduct from five to 25 years and for misdemeanor sex crimes like unwanted sexual contact from one year to five.

The bill, if passed, would help people who were victims of sexual assault as children seek justice as adults. Currently, under Connecticut law, no one over 48 can sue people whom they allege abused or assaulted them when they were minors. Among those fighting for this change are people who say they were abused by Catholic priests when they were children.

The Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference has spoken out against the proposed legislation. In written testimony, it said that such accusations are difficult to prove because "[w]itnesses may die, memories fade, trauma may distort information over time, and documents are lost….Unfortunately, the possibility of fraudulent, yet nearly indefensible, claims cannot be dismissed."

However, attorneys and others who deal with victims of child sexual assault say that false claims are highly unusual. A representative of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association testified that between 4 percent and 11 percent of sexual assault claims are false but that the public believes that percentage is as high as 40.

This is the second consecutive year that Connecticut lawmakers have tried to toughen the state's sexual assault and harassment laws. Last year, even at the height of the #MeToo movement, these efforts failed in the House after passing with bipartisan support in the Senate. The proposed legislation would also broaden the requirements for workplace sexual harassment training.

Bringing a sexual assault lawsuit is never an easy undertaking. Victims need experienced, compassionate attorneys in their corner who are willing to fight for the justice they deserve. Even if you believe the law isn't on your side, it's wise to find out what your options are.

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