Victims push changes to RI statute of limitations on sex assault

By John Krinjak

Email: jkrinjak@abc6.com

Twitter: @johnkrinjakABC6

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — At the State House Thursday night, local victims of sexual violence shared deeply personal stories.

"Today I can do it. But today is 53 years since the abuse stopped," said sex abuse survivor Ann Hagan Webb.

Their hope? To eliminate Rhode Island’s civil statute of limitations for sexual assault–which is currently three years for adults, seven for children.

"It can take a long time, longer than 3 or 7 years, to come to terms with what has happened to you," said Sen. Donna Nesselbush. 

Many say the current laws favor the predators.

Jim Scanlan was raped by his teacher at Boston College High School back in the 70s. The former North Kingstown resident was portrayed in the movie "Spotlight."

"Predators, sexual or otherwise, who belong in jail, belong in jail no matter how long it takes their victims to come forward," said Scanlan.

That teacher, James Talbot, was only able to be prosecuted because of a legal technicality–that he had moved out of state–much like Howard White, who abused boys at St. George’s School in Newport.

"He couldn’t be sued for it civilly. He couldn’t be prosecuted for it criminally. The only way he was able to be prosecuted was because he happened to take one of the boys to Massachusetts," said Carmen Durso, an attorney for the St. George’s School victims. 

Proponents of the bill want justice to be based not on geography or time, but on a victim’s willingness to tell their story.

"Someday the silence will be broken and they will be exposed," said Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee.

Other new England states like Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine have extended or gotten rid of limitations as it relates to criminal and civil sexual assault.

We should mention this bill would not apply retroactively to victims for whom the statute has already expired–unless the state Supreme Court changes Rhode Island’s constitution–but victims say their biggest hope is to protect the next generation from the abuse they suffered.