Can I Still File a Claim? The Statute of Limitations On Sexual Assault Cases
Lee Floyd—May 9, 2022
There’s a lot of confusion regarding a survivor’s legal rights following sexual abuse or sexual assault. A common misconception is that victims can only pursue criminal proceedings to have the attacker arrested and charged. But survivors can also pursue civil proceedings as well.
This leads to the second area of confusion for many survivors: How long do I have to file a claim?
The answer isn’t always cut and dry for survivors in Virginia. In the article below, we discuss the statute of limitations for sexual abuse and sexual assault cases and other factors that impact the amount of time a survivor has to file a claim.
Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Are Different
First, it’s important to know the key differences between sexual abuse and sexual assault, as the status of limitations for each type of case can vary depending on the circumstances.
- Sexual abuse involves crimes committed against minors.
- Sexual assault involves crimes committed against adults.
These two terms are often used interchangeably but are treated very differently by courts.
Since minors can’t consent to sexual activity, any contact with a minor is illegal. And in the civil realm, minor abuse survivors (through their parents or guardians) can sue their abuser for civil damages.
Under Virginia law, sexual abuse can include any of the following actions:
- Exposing one’s genitals to a minor
- Fondling a minor’s intimate parts
- Forcing a minor to fondle their own intimate parts
- Engaging in any penetrative sexual acts with a minor
- Taking sexually explicit images or videos of children
- Forcing a minor to watch the abuser masturbate
If you suspect child abuse or know a minor has been abused in any of these ways, it’s not too late to seek help. The statute of limitations may be longer than you think.
Virginia law defines sexual assault as including only sex crimes against adults. Sexual assault can include the following actions:
- Object sexual penetration
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual battery
- Sexual touching of intimate parts or material covering such intimate parts
- Forced sexual touching
- Any other act with the intent to sexually molest, arouse, or gratify any person
Just like sexual abuse survivors, sexual assault survivors can bring a legal claim against their abuser to recover financial damages.
What Does Statute of Limitations Mean?
The term “statute of limitations” (SOL) refers to the amount of time you have to file a claim against your attacker.
While most personal injury cases have an SOL of two years from the incident, calculating the limitations period for sexual abuse or assault can be trickier.
Sexual Abuse: 20 Years From Accrual
Under Virginia statute § 8.01-243, the statute of limitations on sexual abuse of a minor doesn’t expire until 20 years after the cause of action accrues.
A cause of action may “accrue” when:
- A minor turns 18 (see Virginia statute § 8.01-249(6))
- A minor first communicates the abuse to a therapist
Determining whether the SOL has expired in a child sex abuse case is very fact-specific.
Different factors play a role in this legal determination, including:
- When the sexual abuse occurred
- The age of the survivor at the time of the abuse, and
- Whether the survivor has received medical treatment related to the sexual abuse
We strongly encourage all survivors of child sexual abuse to consult with an attorney, at Breit Biniazan or elsewhere, as soon as possible to better understand their rights and whether they have a viable legal cause of action.
Sexual Assault: 2 (or More) Years
Virginia has eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for all felony sex crimes. This means that an offender can be prosecuted for rape, sexual battery, or other serious sex crimes even decades after the offense.
Calculating the statute of limitations for civil sexual assault claims is tougher.
Sometimes, the “default” two-year SOL for personal injury claims applies. In other cases, the SOL can be tolled, or paused, based on the circumstances.
Reporting sexual assault can be tough, and it’s important to go at your own pace. Far too often, survivors are afraid to step forward because they fear their attacker or because they feel it is too late to take action.
The statutes can be confusing, but don’t let that keep you from speaking up.
Talk to a trusted advisor and seek the counsel of a reputable attorney to do whatever is necessary to pursue compensation and justice against the responsible party.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse, your first call should be the police.
However, once your criminal matter is underway, you can also pursue a civil lawsuit to compensate you for the physical and emotional trauma you’ve suffered from the heinous act.
It’s important to know your rights in filing a lawsuit against your attacker so you can move forward and pursue the justice you deserve.
Our Virginia sexual assault attorneys work with our clients to help them understand what options they have and how they can protect their rights after an attack. At Breit Biniazan, we put your needs first. We’ll treat your case with the care and respect it deserves.
“The highest and best use of my time is to help others when they have nowhere else to turn.” – Lee Floyd
At Breit Biniazan, Lee Floyd works tirelessly to represent innocent clients harmed by the negligence of others. She left the world of corporate defense for personal injury litigation. Now, as a Partner with Breit Biniazan, she offers a unique perspective: a peek into what corporate defense teams do and say behind closed doors. Her previous experience gives Breit Biniazan clients the upper hand.