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Abuse extension bill clears panel

Jul 6, 2006 | Victims of childhood sexual abuse would have up to 25 years to report their cases for possible criminal prosecution, according to a bill approved by a legislative committee.

The Judiciary Committee voted on Friday to extend the statute of limitations for childhood victims of sexual abuse from the current 15 years to 25 years. Because the deadline for reporting the crime starts when the child reaches age 16, victims would have until the age of 41 to report sexual abuse crimes.

It was the statute of limitation that stopped any consideration of prosecuting Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, the former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, after a grand jury indicted him on two counts of child rape in 2004, according to Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett.

The district attorney said the statute was six years when the crimes were alleged to have started in 1976.

The proposed legislation would cover serious crimes such as rape and some types of sexual assault. But it would not include civil cases or incest.

Steven A. Krueger of the Coalition to Reform Sexual Abuse Laws in Massachusetts said the committee vote is a necessary first step, but is insufficient.

"It's only a partial measure that represents some tolerance for crimes of sexual abuse to children," he said.

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly criticized the decision by the Judiciary Committee. He also supported eliminating the statute of limitations.

Rep. Eugene L. O'Flaherty, D-Chelsea, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the statutes of limitations are important.

"They're there to be sure that evidence that is brought into court is credible, that witnesses are credible and that significant time has not elapsed whereby memories and the like have faded," he said.

The full House and Senate are expected to vote on the bill by the Judiciary Committee. Legislators could amend it. The state's four Catholic bishops praised the recommendation by the Judiciary Committee.

"The commonwealth's law enforcement officials should be given the tools they need to remove sexual predators from our communities," said the prelates' statement.

The clergy sexual abuse scandal was key in the push to raise the statute of limitations.

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