When he was 10, James Adams says he was molested by a priest in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish. He kept that secret for three decades. By that time, it was too late to seek compensation from the Archdiocese of New Orleans under state law, which had required childhood sex-abuse survivors to file lawsuits before turning 28. A 2021 state law gave Adams and hundreds of others a new three-year opportunity to file civil claims, instilling hope that alleged abusers who were still active in the church and other organizations would face accountability. Such laws, creating “lookback windows,” have passed in nearly two dozen states, allowing new suits based on allegations of decades-old abuse. In Louisiana and some other states, lookback-window laws have run into legal challenges that they violate constitutional due-process protections, leaving lawsuits like Adams’s in limbo, reports the Wall Street Journal.
“We face this roller coaster of emotion,” said Adams, 53, a New Orleans banker. “We get excited about being heard, and then the court seems to find a way to pull the rug out.” Laws haven’t always operated as quickly or effectively as proponents had hoped. In New York City, alleged victims have been waiting years for trials that still haven’t taken place. State laws have sought to address a common phenomenon in child sex-abuse cases: Survivors typically don’t come forward until well into adulthood because they don’t process the full psychological ramifications for many years. A study of more than 1,000 survivors showed that the median age of disclosure is 52. Lawmakers have created significantly longer time windows to file suits for present-day abuse and have added lookback windows for victims who were subject to shorter time limits in the past. Under some laws, survivors can sue the institutions that employed alleged abusers, such as churches and schools. California passed the first lookback window in 2003, prompting other states to follow. Adams, whose case has been in limbo for two years, sympathizes with elderly plaintiffs who in some cases have died as the issue moves through the legal system. “They’ll never get their day in court,” he said.