CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As lawmakers prepare for the start of the next legislative session in South Carolina, one Lowcountry representative is working to give survivors of sex crimes more time to seek justice.
Rep. Marvin Pendarvis has pre-filed a bill to extend the statute of limitations for civil complaints of sexual assault, abuse or incest.
Pendarvis said this kind of legislation has seen traction across the country, especially following the #MeToo movement.
“This is just a way to support victims and make sure we are doing everything we can as a state to give them every opportunity to fully get closure…at least be able to use the courts and the resources the courts will avail to them to be able to push this forward,” Pendarvis said. “We want to be able to empower those voices and be able to give them what they need to be able to support them as a community. If there are laws in place that leave gaping holes in their ability to really get the closure they need or get the justice they need, then we need to address that.”
His proposed legislation does not specify how long the deadline for claims should be extended. However, survivors currently have six years after they turn 21 or three years from the time they become aware of their assault or abuse to pursue civil action.
Statutes of limitations, like these, are intended to protect the accused parties from “old” claims.
However, Pendarvis believes his effort could give survivors more power to seek justice, especially if there isn’t enough evidence for them to pursue criminal charges against their attackers or abusers because so much time has passed since the incident occurred.
In many cases, it can take survivors years to come forward with their claims. The process can be complicated by feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, or even fear they may not be believed.
“They don’t want to discuss it. They are dealing with a traumatic experience, and they want to process it in the best way they see fit,” Pendarvis said. “It sometimes isn’t until years later that they have the courage and the ability to come forward and really come to grips with what happened and find a way to do something about it.”
The pre-filed bill has been referred to the judiciary committee for consideration.
“We can’t really continue to wait,” Pendarvis said. “We can be proactive or we can be reactive…we’ve got to do something about it. The time is always right to do right, and so this is just a way for us to do right.”