HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Thousands of sexual assault victims could have a longer amount of time to file suit against there offenders if state lawmakers pass a proposed bill.
This comes after a heightened conversation regarding sexual assault across the nation.
In South Carolina, 40% of women report at least one experience of sexual violence during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is higher than the national average.
The CDC said more than 5,698 South Carolinians were victims of sexual violence in 2017. That same year, the Horry County Police Department said it investigated 209 forcible rapes.
Horry County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Sherri Smith said many victims of sexual assault have not filed a civil suit against their offender, and this is not uncommon.
“For victims in the beginning when it happens, there’s shock, there’s trauma there’s shame. There’s a whole list of reasons why someone wouldn’t come forward immediately,” Smith said.
For the victims who need time to process what’s happened to them and decide what to do, the current South Carolina law states that they have 6 years after they turn 21 or 3 years from the time they become aware of their assault or abuse to pursue civil action.
The state said the statutes of limitations are in place to protect those accused from “old” claims.
The newly pre-filed bill would extend the statute of limitations for civil complaints of sexual assault, abuse or incest, but it doesn’t state how long it would extend it for.
“I don’t know that you could put a time limit on it really," Smith said. “If anybody has gone through any kind of sexual assault or sexual trauma, they aren’t just better the next day. They may not be better the next month. For some people, it may only take a couple of years for them to be ready to file that lawsuit. For some people, it may be years and years and years before they want to face what’s happened to them.”
The proposed bill is expected to be heard and discussed by state lawmakers after the legislative session begins in January.