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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Statute of Limitations Bars Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
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Key point 10-16.4. The statute of limitations specifies the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit. Lawsuits cannot be brought after this deadline has passed. There are a few exceptions that have been recognized by some courts: (1) The statute of limitations for injuries suffered by a minor begins to run on the minor's 18th birthday. (2) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult survivor of child sexual molestation "discovers" that he or she has experienced physical or emotional suffering as a result of the molestation. (3) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult with whom a minister or church counselor has had sexual contact "discovers" that his or her psychological damages were caused by the inappropriate contact. (4) The statute of limitations is suspended due to fraud or concealment of a cause of action.

An Illinois court ruled that a woman's lawsuit seeking monetary damages for the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a youth ministry volunteer over several years was barred by the state statute of limitations. A 5-year-old girl (the "victim") and her family began attending a church. The victim became involved in the church's children's ministry. Beginning at the age of 11 or 12, she attended an overnight church camp in Wisconsin for approximately two weeks every summer.

A church member (the "defendant") was a leader at the church in charge of the high school youth group. She met the victim when she was 12 or 13, but the two did not have regular contact until the victim joined the high school youth group when she was 14 years old. At that time, the victim saw the defendant at youth group meetings once a week, at church on Sundays, and for sporadic extracurricular activities.

In the summer of 1996, when the victim was 16, she attended an overnight church camp, where she was one of several youth group leaders for the younger members. The defendant was in charge of the leaders.

The defendant told the victim during a series of conversations that she was interested in pursuing a "discipleship" or mentoring relationship with her. The victim understood this to mean that the defendant wanted to read the Bible together and act as her teacher and spiritual adviser. The victim was aware that the defendant previously had a mentoring relationship with another youth group leader. The victim had seen the other leader in bed with the defendant at camp in the summer of 1993 or 1994, when the victim was 12 or 13. After the victim agreed to the discipleship, the defendant began lying in bed with her, cuddling her, and giving her back rubs.

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