Discussion of Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse Offenses in Illinois

If, as a minor or an adult, you have suffered the trauma and humiliation of sexual abuse, you should know that Illinois lawmakers have extended the statute of limitations on many sexual abuse offenses, so that victims may have added opportunities to press for criminal action against their abusers.

This is a complex legal issue, because new laws have been layered on top of older ones. There are technical distinctions to be drawn that can only be resolved by legal counsel. Nonetheless, you can get an overall view of the sexual abuse statute of limitations with a couple of rules-of-thumb:

1) For childhood victims of sexual abuse, prosecution may be possible until the victims reach 38 years of age. (This is because Illinois lawmakers recognized the difficult nature of childhood abuse – and since the 1980s have allowed more and more time for victims to cope with the deep, often hidden nature of their trauma – and then to come forward.)

2) In many circumstances, the statute of limitations does not apply to sexual abuse cases for which an abuser’s DNA has become available for analysis and inclusion in DNA databases. The law, in other words, allows for newly available DNA evidence to bring abusers to justice.

Here are some other factors that can have an effect on statute of limitation issues in sexual abuse cases. These examples are added reasons why a lay person needs professional help to make sense of the legal landscape surrounding such cases.

1) Specific sex crimes have had their descriptions altered over the last 20 years. What is now a crime may not have been one when it occurred.

2) Whether the abuser was a family member, a stranger, or a legal guardian is important, as distinct statutes my apply in each case. Similarly, whether the victim was an adult or minor at the time of the abuse makes an difference.

3) In most cases of abuse of minors, the crime must have been originally reported by the time the victim turned 21.

4) Even in cases of sexual abuse in which the statute of limitations has lapsed, the law provides for exceptions, when the arguments is compelling, on a case-by-case basis.

5) If the case involves murder of the victim – or the victim’s death within two years – there is no statute of limitations on the crime.

To summarize, as Illinois legislators have made laws of sexual abuse more sympathetic to the victims, they have also introduced complexity into the legal process. One such element of complexity surrounds the statute of limitation for such crimes. In most cases these have been extended to allow for prosecutions of such serious crimes. For victims seeking justice, if they obtain legal assistance, these extensions provide opportunities for them to seek criminal prosecutions for their abusers.