Sex assault survivors urged lawmakers to erase on civil lawsuits

Sexual assault survivors and supporters hold signs outside a public hearing Thursday on bill to erase the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits being brought against abusers.

CONCORD — Sexual assault victims and their advocates offered emotional testimony Thursday in support of eliminating the statute of limitations to bring civil lawsuits against abusers.

Currently, victims under 18 years old have until they turn 30 to bring a lawsuit for damages against an abuser.

Anyone older than 18 only has three years after the offense to sue.

This bill (SB 508) before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday would eliminate that statute of limitations and also erase any immunity any government entity might have against being sued.

Lisa Solange Pavlopoulos of Manchester said she was sexually assaulted by her adoptive father, George Courturier, until she left home at 19.

She has testified before for changes to state laws benefiting victims of sex assault.

“With each hearing, positive change has happened, however, minute the change, it was still a positive step forward,” she said.

“Now it is time to take our baby shoes off. We’re learned to climb stairs; now we need to jump.”

Courturier, a former Manchester alderman, was sentenced to a term of two years and five months in prison for assaults on other children, she said.

“We are still dealing with a faulty formula and you have the power to change that formula to produce a progressive outcome,” Pavlopoulos said.

David Ouellette of Manchester said he only came to grips with being raped by a priest many years later when he heard a radio report about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

“It has taken me 18 years to understand and believe that I didn’t do anything wrong. I was just a kid that was targeted by a pedophile and I wasn’t the only person he raped,” Ouellette said.

The priest was a close friend of the family.

“Ultimately, it has taken me 43 years to learn how to take my life back and to learn to love myself again. During this time, my parents both died not knowing what happened to me. I couldn’t destroy their faith in God,” Ouellette said.

Melissa Hinebauch of Concord said in her first semester at Dartmouth College, a college senior and football player raped her in 1987.

“I tried to live as if nothing had ever happened, even though I lived in the same dorm as my rapist and saw him all the time. Of course, my life started to unravel; I couldn’t concentrate, I was absolutely consumed by fear, depression and confusion.”

According to Child USA, a national advocacy group, 10 states have no civil statutes of limitations and the states of Maine, Vermont and Connecticut all adopted that policy in 2019.

Last year, 23 states changed these laws in one form or another and bills in 27 states to erase this limit were proposed for 2020, said Professor Marci Hamilton.

Lynn Schollett is executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“This bill would protect the victims of sexual abuse in New Hampshire by making it possible for victims to come forward and identify their perpetrators in a court of law when they are ready.”

“The civil statute of limitations is an arbitrary time frame for a victim, an adult or child, to file a lawsuit against a person or institution responsible for the abuse.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said it’s a disgrace that some sex assault victims have to accept a financial settlement from abusers because medical and counseling bills threatened to bankrupt them.

“No dollar amount will compensate for the pain and suffering the victims have incurred. This bill will help,” D’Allesandro said.

If adopted, this new statute of limitations would only apply to sexual assaults that happen after its effective date that, as proposed, is 60 days after it’s signed into law.

No one opposed the bill during a two-hour hearing.

Thursday, May 28, 2020