By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Saipan-- CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres on Wednesday signed a bill lifting the statute of limitation for child sex abuse cases, allowing victims to sue for civil claims regardless of the date of the incident.
“I hope that the community understands that sexual abuse is never political. It is the victim and the perpetrator, and we must always fight, support and protect our victims while working together to prevent and end sexual abuse in our Commonwealth,” Torres said in a statement after signing HB 22-2, SD1, authored by Rep. Joseph Lee Pan T. Guerrero.
The bill is now Public Law 22-12, entitled, “To amend the Commonwealth Code to authorize civil claims for child sexual abuse to be commenced at any time."
Torres expressed hopes the new law motivates victims who have been afraid to come out and encourages the community to be advocates for our victims by providing support and protection.
Under the new law, "any claim arising from an incident of child sexual abuse may be commenced against a person, a legal entity, abusers, their enablers, their aiders or abettors, those acting in concert with them and their institutions at any time."
House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez said the new law seeks to end the long silence of child sex abuse victims.
“We should give victims the confidence, the courage, and the assurance that there are people in the community who are there to protect them through the support system, but also make policy to prevent them from suffering in silence,” Villagomez said.
Grace Sablan-Vaiagae, a community advocate, expressed how leaders must continue to stand up for victims in the community, adding that the bill will open a lot of doors for victims— men, women, and their families— to hopefully come forth with the confidence to step forward and say that they want to face their perpetrators, knowing justice is on their side. She also read a personal letter on behalf of a survivor, which had been publicly posted on social media.
In the letter, the survivor told other survivors that they are not alone.
"I am writing to tell you that you are not alone. I struggled in my decision to write this in large part because I didn’t want to put myself out there in this way. Honestly, I don’t know what I’m more scared of, saying something or staying silent.
"But after a week of talking to the women in my survivor’s group and feeling abject despair over the manner in which our community is handling the topic of sexual violence and abuse, I’m done. I’m done with our culture of silence. I’m done being ashamed. I’m done feeling angry. I’m done with feeling guilty.
"I know so many of you have been struggling this past week. I know because it has been really hard for me too. Every single reason why so many of us stay silent, every single reason why we fear reporting, every single reason that we’ve used to justify why it’s better to suffer in silence to our own detriment, was affirmed this past week in a very public way."
Sablan-Vaiagae said the new law must not be seen as "something political, or for personal gain, because it is not. It is about coming together, building a strong Marianas, and breaking the silence.”
Shirley Camacho-Ogumoro, special advisor for Women’s Affairs, said although April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month, it does not mean that the community must only advocate during that month.
Every day can be our voice for change and that women are not going to tolerate being victims anymore, she added.
Vivian Sablan, administratior of the Division of Youth Services, said the law is a major steppingstone, adding that for victims and their families, this is a lifelong process that affects every aspect of one’s life.
She noted that one case can take many years, and for victims who may or may not be able to come out and speak freely, it is something that they deal with for a lifetime.