Maryland Child Sex Abuse
Maryland has passed legislation eliminating the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits brought by child sex abuse victims against their alleged abusers and organizations accused of concealing that abuse. Previously, Maryland child sex abuse laws allowed adult survivors to come forward up to age 38. Both the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Boy Scouts of America have faced accusations of decades-long institutional cover-ups of childhood sexual abuse in Maryland. For additional resources, reach out to Helping Survivors.
The Maryland legislature recently gave adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse greater access to justice in the civil courts. On April 11, 2023, the state passed the Maryland Child Victims Act. This legislation abolishes the statute of limitations for adult survivors to file civil lawsuits against their abusers or others who helped to conceal Maryland child sex abuse.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Boy Scouts of America are two of the largest organizations accused of the institutional cover-up of child sexual abuse in Maryland. Documentation of abuse stretches as far back as the 1960s and as recently as the early 2000s. If you or someone you know was a victim of sexual abuse, reach out to a Maryland child sex abuse lawyer today to learn about your legal options.
History of Maryland Child Sexual Abuse Laws
Before this legislation, the history of Maryland state laws addressing incest, rape, molestation, and sodomy of children made it difficult for some adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice. There are two main reasons for this:
- Laws about child abuse in the United States didn’t exist until 1963.
- Maryland didn’t specifically address child sexual abuse in state statutes until 1974.
By 1976, the Maryland legislature defined first- and second-degree rape, which only covered non-consensual vaginal intercourse. It also included first, second, third, and fourth-degree sexual offenses to cover other forced sexual acts and sexual contact. All of these offenses, except for a sexual offense in the fourth degree, are felonies under Maryland law. Felony offenses have no statute of limitations in Maryland.
It was not until 2003 that the state divided sexual child abuse and other forms of physical child abuse into separate statutes.
However, these laws did not address victims’ rights to seek compensation in civil court. Sexual abuse civil lawsuits were subject to the general three-year statute of limitations applicable in most tort cases.
In 2017, Maryland enacted an extension of the statute of limitations for civil child sexual abuse claims, giving victims 20 years after they turned 18 to file suit. However, the bill also added the statute of repose, creating a hard cutoff for suits based on claims that had already expired when the 2017 bill went into effect.
Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023
Victim advocates have long argued for ending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. That’s because it can take survivors many years to process their abuse and seek justice.
In a major victory for abuse victims, Maryland Governor Wes Moore signed the Maryland Child Victims Act into law on April 11, 2023, abolishing the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits related to child sexual abuse. Under this law, survivors of childhood sex abuse can file a civil lawsuit to recover monetary damages at any time against their abuser or those who knowingly allowed the abuse to occur.
The law also repeals the statute of repose for civil suits over child sex abuse. Statutes of repose bar legal actions after a specified period elapses, regardless of whether the cause of action has accrued. In this case, the now-repealed statute of repose barred claims from being filed that had expired under previous statutes of limitations. The repeal creates an unlimited lookback period, allowing victims to revive previously time-barred claims.
The legislation takes effect on October 1, 2023.
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How Does the New Maryland Child Sex Abuse Legislation Help Victims?
The Maryland Child Victims Act does away completely with any civil statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. Victims can file a civil lawsuit at any time, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
The law does place a cap on the monetary damages a victim can receive from a civil suit:
- Non-economic damages from private entities such as churches and civic organizations are capped at $1.5 million. There is no cap for services, including therapy and medical expenses.
- Public entities, including school boards and local governments, can only be sued for up to $890,000 in damages.
Archdiocese of Baltimore Child Sex Abuse
The report outlined information found in hundreds of thousands of pages of church documents dating back to the 1940s, along with interviews of victims and witnesses. It revealed decades of abuse perpetrated against children by priests, seminarians, deacons, and laypersons in the Catholic Church. It also accused church leaders of covering up the abuse. The church has not publicly denied the findings of this investigation.
Maryland’s top prosecutor discovered at least 600 child victims over a 60-year history of abuse within the Baltimore Catholic Church. The investigation uncovered the following evidence of abuse and an institutional cover-up between 1964 and 2004:
Parents provided unfettered access to their children because of the abusers’ position of trust and authority.
Abusers brazenly continued their abuse, even after victims came forward or concerns were raised regarding their behavior.
Church officials did not report the criminal behavior to law enforcement. Instead, bishops and church leaders conducted internal investigations in which they dismissed reports of abuse, did not adequately investigate complaints, and made little to no effort to corroborate the abuse.
Church leaders moved suspected abusers from parish to parish with promises that they would not be allowed further contact with children and failed to warn parishioners of a priest’s background.
In some cases, known abusers were sent to “treatment” before being reassigned to a position with access to children.
Church documents show that the archdiocese was more concerned with avoiding scandal and bad publicity than protecting victims.
The attorney general’s investigation found evidence that the archdiocese influenced the press to cover up allegations of abuse to keep them from becoming public and used church members within the legal system to help abusers avoid criminal prosecution.
To date, the Baltimore Archdiocese reports that it has paid more than $13.2 million to 301 abuse victims since the 1980s. The Maryland Child Victims Act has the potential to increase the number of victims who come forward seeking compensation for their pain and suffering.
Boy Scouts of America Child Sex Abuse in Maryland
The Boy Scouts of America has also faced accusations in Maryland of institutional concealment of child sexual abuse from the 1960s through the early 2000s. The organization filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2020 after facing the prospect of thousands of lawsuits alleging that it failed to protect children from abuse.
In response to such cases, 24 states passed legislation that created a so-called revival period, or “lookback window,” for survivors of sexual assault. The window is typically good for one year, during which victims can come forward and file civil lawsuits against their abusers or the institutions that enabled them, even when the crimes occurred decades ago.
The Maryland Child Victims Act is different than other revival period laws because it ends all statutes of limitations and repose for sex crimes committed against children in the state. This creates an unlimited lookback window.
Hiring a Maryland Child Sex Abuse Lawyer
If you’re considering filing a civil lawsuit for childhood sexual abuse, you need an experienced child sex abuse lawyer in Maryland to explain your rights and guide you through the legal process.
You may be able to recover damages for therapy bills, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. Many personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation at no cost to you, and under a contingency fee arrangement, you won’t pay a dime unless they win your case.
Helping Survivors can assist you with finding a lawyer who best meets your needs.