In 2019, the Montana Legislature gave adults who were abused as children a window to file sex abuse lawsuits. That deadline was set at May 6 of this year. The purpose was to allow adults with decades-old allegations to have their day in court. It was a move prompted by revelations of abuse by a Miles City high school athletic trainer. The abuse, dating back to the 1970s and 1990s, led to a lawsuit.
After May 6, the window closes on these old sex abuse lawsuits. Limitations will be reinstated on the claims that may be brought. Those restrictions concern such matters as the age of the victim and whether the abuser is still living.
Several sex abuse lawsuits were filed as the deadline approached.
In Billings, two sisters sued the Jehovah’s Witness Church in U.S. District Court for abuse dating to the 1970s. They accused the church of failing to act after Bruce Mapley Sr. and Gunner Haines admitted to sexually abusing them. The men confessed to a church elder who investigated the allegations and was himself involved in abuse of children. Attorneys for the women claim that the church suspended the alleged abusers but reinstated them within a year. These and other actions allowed the abuse to continue.
Three men also filed sex abuse lawsuits in state court against the Boy Scouts alleging abuse. Like many other cases across the country, this one accuses the Scouts of ignoring reports of sexual abuse. One of the plaintiffs has stated that suing will allow him to heal from what happened decades ago. He also hopes the lawsuit will reveal the extent to which the Boy Scouts have covered up wrongdoing.
One of the attorneys involved in the case has suggested that there could be tens of thousands of others nationwide. The Boy Scouts have indeed been the target of numerous legal actions alleging many of the same negligent behaviors. Many victims believe theirs are isolated cases and are surprised to learn there are countless other victims.
Freedom Church Assembly of God was singled out in another lawsuit filed in state court in Billings. The plaintiff claims that former pastor David Harvey groomed a 15-year-old for repeated sexual assault. The boy’s mother reported the abuse to the senior pastor of the church. However, no further action was taken with law enforcement or other authorities.
These and other cases follow a similar pattern that explains why the one-year window was approved in the first place. They usually go like this: a religious, youth, or other leader in a position of power abuses a child. The organization learns of the abuse, or learns that there are credible allegations of abuse. But instead of reporting it to law enforcement, child protective services, or someone else, nothing is done. Sometimes the abuser is moved to another city or chapter of the organization, only to victimize others. The abuse may have been prevented had the organization taken appropriate action.
Cases often go back years or even decades. Victims are afraid or ashamed to discuss it. Years later, when some victims are even approaching retirement, they decide to speak out. But then they learn that a statute of limitations or other issue prevents them from filing a sexual abuse lawsuit.
Fortunately, Montana did the right thing in letting victims have more time to come forward. Other states have taken similar steps. But many victims will never get the chance because their lawsuit is time-barred. Still others don’t know what their legal options are, and they’re running out of time. Dalimonte Rueb is here to help those who have been abused.
If You or a Loved One Were Sexually Abused, You Have Legal Rights
Victims of sexual abuse often suffer a host of issues. Many of those require therapy and counseling to heal, and those come with costs. The abusers, and those who enable them, should pay for these and other damages. We’re here to help victims demand the compensation they need to get treatment. And to try to make sure that no one else is ever victimized again. Call Dalimonte Rueb today if you or a loved one were the victim of sexual abuse.