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Washington State Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Abuse

The law in Washington State allows individuals to seek recovery of monetary damages for injuries suffered because of childhood sexual abuse. The statute of limitations limits how much time a person has to file civil lawsuits for wrongdoing.

The civil statute of limitations is different from the criminal one. A civil legal action involves filing a lawsuit to seek financial compensation for the survivor. A criminal action involves the police and can result in potential jail time or fines for the perpetrators, which would be paid to the state, not the survivor.

In civil actions, an abuse survivor can seek monetary damages not only from the perpetrator of the sex crime but also any institution that failed to prevent it.

What is the current statute of limitations for child sex abuse in Washington State?

Currently, there is no statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse for minors under 18 to sue abusers.

As a result of PCVA’s efforts to pass HB 1618, there is no statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse that happens on or after June 6, 2024. That means if a survivor was below the age of 18 and sexually abused on or after June 6, 2024, they have no time limit to sue for that abuse.

If a survivor was abused as a child before that date and is now an adult over the age of 18, Washington’s statute gives them three years to file a civil childhood sexual abuse action from:

  • The time of the act itself;
  • The time the survivor should have discovered that an injury or condition was caused by the act;
  • The time the survivor discovered that the act caused the injuries or conditions for which they are suing.

The “act” can be the abuse itself or an organization’s failure to protect them from abuse. This means in Washington State, you can sue for childhood sexual abuse many years, or even decades, after the abuse occurred. The clock starts running from the moment a survivor connects the injury to the abuse.

Here is a hypothetical example: An adult woman in her early 30s decides to seek treatment for lifelong anxiety, recurring depression and chronic sexual dysfunction. During therapy she recalls a repressed memory of being raped as a child at church. Even though the act happened decades ago, the statute of limitations clock for lawsuits against her abuser begins running when the woman recalls the rape and connects it to her mental health problems.

The same rule applies if someone remembers childhood abuse but tries to suppress it until years later as an adult they realize it is causing ongoing mental health problems that can no longer be ignored.

Finally, the same rule applies if someone knows they were abused as a child—for example, by a teacher, coach, priest, or foster parent—but discovers as an adult that an organization—like a school, sports team or league, church, or the State of Washington— had the responsibility to protect children from abuse, failed to take steps to protect them from abuse, or ignored “red flags” about their abuser. The statute of limitations clock on lawsuits against the organization only begins to run when a survivor discovers how the organization failed them.   

What are the injuries arising from child sexual abuse under Washington State law?

Childhood sexual abuse causes severe emotional and psychological trauma. An experience can be so overwhelming to a child’s undeveloped nervous system that memories of the trauma may be repressed, or the victim may dissociate.

Regular abuse may result in complex trauma that fundamentally disrupts a child’s physical, mental and emotional development.

Washington State law says, “The legislature finds that…childhood sexual abuse is a traumatic experience for the victim causing long-lasting damage. The victim…may repress the memory of the abuse or be unable to connect the abuse to any injury…The victim may be unable to understand or make the connection between childhood sexual abuse and emotional harm or damage until many years after the abuse occurs.”

The effects of sexual violence can include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dissociation
  • Panic attacks
  • Substance abuse
  • Disordered sleep
  • Sexual dysfunction

Many children may not immediately realize they experienced abuse. Many abusers groom their victims or disguise their abuse as something else, such as play or medical treatment. There is no way to predict how or when survivors of trauma will make the connection between abuse and the injuries it caused. In fact, most adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse don’t come forward until their 50s or later. This is why it is important for states to abolish the statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse.

There is also no way to predict how long it will take for a survivor to heal from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse once they begin treatment. Civil lawsuits allow survivors to recover damages that can help cover these expenses, hold perpetrators and institutions who fail to protect children accountable, and encourage institutions to better protect children in the future.

What is child sexual abuse under Washington State law?

Childhood sexual abuse in Washington State includes, but is not limited to, rape in the first, second and third degrees; child molestation in the first, second and third degrees; sexual misconduct with a minor in the first and second degrees; sexual exploitation of a minor; and voyeurism.

The legal names of these crimes change over time, but generally, survivors of abuse can file a civil action for any incident that constituted a sex crime at the time of the abuse.

Survivors ready to come forward should consult with an experienced attorney to determine how to proceed with claims.

Who is responsible if I was abused as a child?

Children are vulnerable, and the institutions that we trust to care for them have a legal responsibility to keep them safe. The attorneys at PCVA have successfully argued this fundamental legal principle in innumerable cases, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for their clients.  This legal responsibility extends to:

  • Schools, which are responsible for the sexual misconduct of employees
  • Religious organizations, including churches, whether perpetrators were clergy, lay employees, or volunteers
  • The state, in the case of abuse that occurs in foster care or other forms of state supervision, such as juvenile detention or probation
  • Private institutions, such as businesses or recreational organizations
  • Healthcare facilities, such as hospitals and physician practices
  • Rehabilitation and substance abuse centers and programs

Thanks to PCVA attorneys, the Washington State Supreme Court also has recognized that sexual abuse and assault as gender-based discrimination subject to “strict liability” under the Washington Law Against Discrimination.  This means that schools, hospitals, and other “places of public accommodation” are liable to survivors for sexual abuse or assault committed by their employees or volunteers, no matter whether the institution claims it took adequate steps to protect children.  

Who pays if I win or settle my sex abuse lawsuit against a school, church or facility where I was abused?

Institutions that have a legal responsibility to keep a child safe are required to carry insurance. Those insurers will cover the cost of the settlement or jury award.

It’s important for anyone who suffered childhood sexual abuse to remember that what they experienced was a severe injury, with harm that can last a lifetime.

If an institution fails to maintain its premises and a falling brick injures someone on the head, that person is entitled to seek financial compensation under an insurance policy. These places have a legal obligation to keep people safe while on the property — especially children. Sexual abuse is no different in this sense.

How can I protect my privacy if I file a lawsuit for childhood sexual abuse?

Many courageous survivors have come forward and disclosed the horrors of abuse to hold powerful institutions accountable. It’s understandable that many others prefer to maintain their privacy. The law allows plaintiffs who were victims of sexual abuse as minors to sue under their initials and maintain privacy through the litigation process.

The attorneys at PCVA take a survivor-oriented, trauma-informed approach to child sexual abuse litigation. They understand the strength, courage and emotional investment it takes for someone to come forward and disclose these deeply disturbing experiences to strangers. They compassionately guide their clients through the legal process and serve as fierce advocates for survivors to receive the resources they deserve to heal from trauma.

How long does the legal process take once a lawsuit is filed?

Once a survivor is ready to contact an attorney, lawsuits generally take 1.5 to 3 years to move through the legal system.

How much do you charge?

At PCVA, our work is done on a contingency basis. This means that if your case reaches a favorable settlement or verdict, we collect a portion of the amount.

If you or someone you know experienced sexual abuse or assault as a child, our attorneys are here to listen and help. Learn more about how we help sexual abuse survivors or schedule a no obligation consultation with one of our lawyers by completing our intake form or by calling us at (253) 948-3199 or (206) 536-2850.

Our Case Results

Below are just some of our results in cases involving sexual abuse. To see more, visit our case results page.

$25M Jury Verdict in First Child Victims Act Trial Against State of New Jersey

$16.95M Settlement in Landmark Child Abuse Case Against Washington State

$9.35M Settlement for Foster Care Child Sexual Abuse Case Against Washington State

$7.5M Jury Verdict in Child Sex Abuse Case Against YMCA

$3.9M Settlement for a Child Sexual Abuse Case Against the Tahoma School District

$3M Settlement in Coach Sexual Abuse Case Against Seattle Public Schools

$2.425M Settlement in Teacher/Coach/Athletic Director Sexual Abuse Case