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How time can be a factor in sexual abuse cases

Many people have been following the dramatic stories of sexual abuse that have been told about iconic actor and comedian, Bill Cosby. Currently, reports state that there are more than 20 women who have made statements that Cosby engaged in unlawful sexual conduct with them at some point. In some cases, the alleged events took place decades ago.

It has only been in recent weeks that several of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct spoke publicly about interactions that were alleged to have happened as long as 50 years ago. The fact that the events are said to have transpired so long ago could -- and likely will -- have a dramatic impact on the charges that Cosby may or may not ultimately face.

Time is a critical factor in any case involving sexual assault or rape allegations. For example, a person's age at the time of an incident could dramatically impact the nature of the charges that may be filed. But the passage of time specifically could determine whether charges can even be filed in the first place.

When enough time passes after a specific event, the details of that event can get blurry for alleged victims, witnesses and the person accused of misconduct. Our memory can be much less reliable after years have gone by because every time we think about an event, we can change certain details without even realizing it. This means that other pieces of evidence must be collected to either support or refute sexual assault crimes.

Further, and perhaps most relevant to the Cosby story, is the existence of statutes of limitations. Every state, including Florida, has statutes of limitations in place for crimes including child sex abuse and sexual assault. These limits depend heavily on factors like when an alleged act occurred and the age of the alleged victim at the time of an assault. When the statute of limitations has expired, it may no longer be possible to pursue civil or criminal charges.

As we said above: Time can play a critical role in sexual assault or abuse cases. A person who is being accused of misconduct that is alleged to have taken place years ago would be wise to speak with an attorney who understands this and can explore appropriate defense strategies.

Source: CNN, "How will we remember Bill Cosby?" Todd Leopold, Dec. 8, 2014

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