Gov. Ducey signs bill that gives sex abuse victims more time to sue

PHOENIX (FOX 10/AP) -- Arizona this week joined a growing movement of states extending the rights of childhood sexual abuse victims to sue their alleged assailants and any churches, youth groups or other institutions that turned a blind eye.

Gov. Doug Ducey, key lawmakers and abuse victims celebrated the legislation in a news conference Tuesday, a day after the legislation was approved in a late-night session.

"Victims need time, time to process, time to understand what has happened, and to come forward, and they deserve the ability to come forward," said Gov. Ducey, who also said he'll create a task force to find other ways the state can help sex-abuse victims.

"Some people who were voiceless and were not being heard today know they're being heard, and they can pursue justice," Ducey told reporters.

The Arizona legislation, which took effect as soon as Ducey signed it Monday night, gives abuse victims until their 30th birthday to sue, a decade longer than before. It also opens a one-time window for victims who've missed the cutoff, who now have until the end of 2020 to file suit, but they won't be able to receive punitive damages.

Victims' advocates say it takes years or even decades for children who've been abused to understand what happened to them and get comfortable speaking about it. By the time they're ready to sue, victims say, it's too late to seek justice.

Arizona has no deadline for criminal charges in child sexual abuse cases, but victims say prosecutors are often reluctant to go after abusers unless there's overwhelming evidence that's rare for decades-old abuse.

"Arizona is no longer the dark corner where you can hide a pedophile," said Republican Sen. Heather Carter, who along with fellow Republican Sen. Paul Boyer pushed aggressively for the legislation.

Debate over the bill and opening up people to false accusations had brought the budget process to a momentary halt.

"There's always a concern around false accusations," said Gov. Ducey. "Of course, we don't want to harm any worthy institution. This is about individual justice of people who were harmed."

"What survivors have told me, not so much for them, but they hope that no other child would have to endure the heinous nature of the crimes they had to endure," said State Sen. Paul Boyer, a GOP lawmaker who sponsored the bill.

"We are talking about helping people to get justice, to hold people accountable for raping children," said former national speed-skating champion Bridie Farrell, who had been pushing Arizona lawmakers to pass a bill giving abuse survivors more opportunities to sue their abusers.

Farrell is also a survivor of sex abuse.

"Survivors don't want to take down the LDS Church or the Catholic Church or, in my case, the United States Olympic Committee," said Farrell, who was one of many survivors celebrating the bill's signing. "We want to ensure that no child has to go through what we went through."

New York, New Jersey and Montana have this year approved legislation extending the statute of limitations in various ways. Similar legislation is awaiting action by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.