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N.H. Lawmakers Weigh Bills to Better Address Sexual Assault

Sarah Gibson for NHPR


Lawmakers heard testimony today on two bipartisan bills aimed at preventing sexual assault and helping survivors seek medical and legal services. 

SB 508 would remove the time limit for an alleged victim of sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit. Right now, those abused as children have to file claims before they turn 30, and, if abused as an adult, they have to file within three years of the incident. 

Lynn Shollett, of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says it often takes people longer than this to be ready to file a claim.

“The impact of trauma on victims of sexual abuse is that it’s often difficult for them to come forward and report what happened to them. By removing this artificial time limit, victims will have greater opportunity to heal and seek justice,” she said.

A bill in the House, HB1586, would get rid of the time limit for criminal charges, which also have a statute of limitations. 

A coalition of college students and recent alumni is also pushing SB 679, which would require all college campuses to adopt new policies on reporting and counseling on sexual assault, coordinate services with local crisis centers, and administer an anonymous statewide survey to students to document sexual assault, violence, and stalking.

It would also exclude some staff from mandatory reporting requirements.

John Gabrieli, who cofounded the coalition Every Voice and helped write the bill, says on many campuses, students have limited control over whether their allegations will be shared with school administration or law enforcement.

“So what you have is many students who are inadvertently triggering an investigation that they don't want and we believe survivors should have autonomy to decide when and how to proceed with investigation.”

The bill has bipartisan support from lawmakers, victim advocacy groups, and Governor Chris Sununu.

Gabrieli says if passed, it would be one of the most comprehensive bills in the country to address sexual assault and prevention on college campuses.