LITTLE ROCK — There’s a new opportunity for childhood sexual abuse survivors to file a civil lawsuit against their abusers in the state of Arkansas.

The Justice for Vulnerable Victims of Sexual Abuse Act, sponsored by state senator David Wallace (R) District 19 and passed in 2021, gave childhood sexual abuse survivors in the state a “lookback window” to file a civil claim against their abusers January 28, 2022, to January 31, 2024.

Effective from February 1, 2024, survivors, regardless of when the abuse occurred, can file a civil lawsuit until January 31, 2026.

Republican State Representative Jimmy Gazaway, who represents District 31 and served as a cosponsor of the legislation, highlighted the significant changes made to the statute of limitations.

Initially set at 21 years, then extended to 55 years, the legislation now grants anyone regardless of age the freedom to file a civil claim for sexual abuse.

“There’s some research that indicates most victims of childhood sexual abuse don’t disclose until their 50’s,” Gazaway said. “We wanted to make sure that victims of childhood sexual abuse had the opportunity to obtain justice and extending and eliminating [the statute of limitations], which is what we did in 2023, would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to obtain justice.”

Gazaway made a distinction that civil cases usually result in “money damages, compensatory damages, and even punitive damages, whereas in the criminal context, you’re looking at prison time.”

“In terms of someone being labeled a sex offender, that would only happen in the criminal context,” Gazaway said. “That would not happen in the civil context, but they may be found liable for childhood sexual abuse and, of course, that’d be a matter of public record.”

William Stevens, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, said he shared his story before the House in the Senate judiciary committee to help extend the statute of limitations.

“I think it’s just amazing that Arkansas is the leader in this situation,” Stevens said. “They’re trying to let everyone know that no matter what you’ve done, and to the organizations and to the people who have abused children, that there’s nowhere [they] can hide in this state.”

Stevens said he was sexually abused by one of his Boy Scout leaders at age 10 but noted it wasn’t until he was 49 years old that he was ready to come forward.

“Since then we found out that there were multiple victims here in Arkansas, and across the country of this one individual,” Stevens said. ” Just being able to say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to stay quiet. I’m not gonna let this just stay in the background. I’m gonna go ahead and come forward. ‘”

Stevens emphasized his coming forward was “one of the most one of the most important things” he’s ever done in his life and said he encourages other survivors to speak up.