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Should Vt. victims get more time to report child sex crimes? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Should Vt. victims get more time to report child sex crimes?

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

"We don't have a statute of limitations on homicide," Jerry O'Neill said. "Why should we have one on child sex offenses?"

O'Neill is a former federal prosecutor who has also successfully sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington on behalf of 50 victims of child sex abuse. O'Neill says many victims don't come forward until well into their adulthood.

"They have not been able to for so many years because of the stigma, because of the relationship with the person, or simply because they felt a necessity to keep it a deep, dark secret," he said.

Under current law, Vermont victims must report child sex crimes before they're 24, or 10 years from the offense. After that, their abusers cannot be prosecuted.

"What the Victim's Network has to say is you cannot even report it. We can do nothing if you are past the age of 24," said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham County.

Senators seeking a change gave preliminary approval to a bill Thursday that would allow child victims to report allegations of sex assault, lewd and lascivious conduct, and sexual exploitation until they're 40-years-old.

"Forty is not a magic number," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.

But Sears-- who introduced the bill-- calls it a compromise between what's on the books and doing away with a time limit all together.

"As a criminal defense attorney I struggled with this particular issue," said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County.

Benning was the sole senator who voted against the measure in committee. He argues waiting until 40 opens the door to doubt.

"Chances are fairly good that their memory will be somewhat challenged by that length of time," Benning said.

"It's always more difficult to prosecute an older case," O'Neill said.

But O'Neill and other supporters say upping the age limit does not change the state's burden of proof in a criminal case.

"Remember that this does not guarantee that there will be any kind of prosecution because there will still be evidence that needs to be collected. There will still be a case that needs to be made," White said.

On Friday the Senate is expected to give the proposal final approval and hand it over to the House.

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