State looking to extend statute of limitations for child abuse

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Victims of sex abuse by priests say the statute of limitations is protecting too many predators, and state lawmakers are now looking at ways to change that.

The issue is that child sex-crime victims often wait decades before coming forward, which can wipe out the chance for criminal charges against their tormentors.

In an effort to solve that problem, state lawmakers in Olympia are mulling plans to extend the timeline for reporting the crimes.

Years of abuse by priests they trusted left deep emotional scars on Barbara Dorris and Mary Dispenza. Dorris said she was just 6-years old when the abuse began, but it took her decades to overcome her shame and name her parish priest as a rapist.

"He escaped prosecution, basically, because of the statute of limitations," Dorris said. "It's very hard for victims to come forward."

State law says rape of young children can be prosecuted until the victim's 28th birthday if the incident is reported to police within a year.

Dorri said that law only helps the criminals.

"Statute of limitations currently are archaic and predator friendly," she said.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee is now looking at extending the statute of limitations so accused child sex predators can be charged up until the victim's 30th birthday.

Many sex abuse victims accuse the Catholic Church of protecting predators over the years, and they're asking Archbishop Peter Sartain to embrace the new legislation.

"He could end some of this right now by mandating that all of the priests, brothers orders, release records, let the public know," Dispenza said.

Church officials say they do support lifting the statute of limitations for child abuse cases and say they proactively report suspicious activity to the police.

"We are on record as saying that those who abuse children should be criminally prosecuted," said Greg Magnoni, the Archdiocese of Seattle.

The statute of limitations legislation is still making its way through the Senate with a companion bill that's navigating through the House.

Despite that progress, Dorris and Dispenza say the Catholic Church could do more to advocate the change.

"We feel Archbishop Sartain has an obligation to do outreach," Dorris said.

State law currently allows sex abuse charges to be filed at any time if new DNA evidence is found. Without that, the crimes can be difficult to prove so many decades later.