Massachusetts law about child sexual abuse and statutes of limitations

A compilation of laws, regulations, and web sources on child sexual abuse law.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 265 Crimes against the person:

MGL c.119, § 21 Mandated reporters defined

MGL c.119, § 51A Mandated reporting explained

MGL c.260, § 4C Statute of limitations for tort of sexual abuse of minors

MGL c.260, § 4C-1/2 Negligent supervision or conduct which caused or contributed to the sexual abuse of a minor

Statutes of limitations

35 years Statute of limitations

MGL c. 260, § 4C  Statute of limitations for sexual abuse of minors (civil cases)
"Actions of tort alleging the defendant sexually abused a minor shall be commenced within 35 years of the acts alleged to have caused an injury or condition or within 7 years of the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition was caused by said act, whichever period expires later; provided, however, that the time limit for commencement of an action under this section is tolled for a child until the child reaches eighteen years of age."

MGL c.260, § 4C-1/2 Negligent supervision or conduct causing or contributing to the sexual abuse of minor by another person (same limitation of action as for sexual abuse of minors)

MGL c.277, § 63 Statute of limitations for criminal cases: 27 years from reporting to law enforcement, or from victim turning 16

Public Law 117-176 Eliminating Limits to Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims Act (2022)
Removes federal statute of limitations on civil cases filed by victims of child sex abuse, including sex trafficking, child pornography, and other federal crimes.

Selected cases on statutes of limitations

Commonwealth v. Buono, 484 Mass. 351 (2020)
The corroboration requirement in MGL c. 277, § 63, is not subject to tolling. Any indictment filed more than 27 years after the crime must be supported by submission to the grand jury of “independent evidence that corroborates the victim's allegation.”

Commonwealth v. Santos, 100 Mass. App. Ct. 1 (2021) review denied 489 Mass 1104 (2022)
Corroborative, extrinsic, or forensic evidence, or expert or third-party witness testimony is not required to support the conviction of rape or sexual assault where the victim testifies at trial.

Doe v. Creighton, 439 Mass. 281 (2003)
"A plaintiff who brings suit beyond the normal statutory limitations period may not reach a jury simply by presenting evidence that sexual abuse took place. In order to survive a motion for summary judgment in those circumstances, a plaintiff must show that the nature of the abuse was such that it would cause an objectively reasonable person to fail to recognize the causal connection between it and the injuries that it caused."

Koe v. Mercer, 450 Mass. 97 (2007)
Once a plaintiff knows of the connection, the statute of limitations begins to run, even if he does not know the "full extent or nature of [the] injury."

Phinney v. Morgan, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 202 (1995) review denied 421 Mass. 1104 (1995)
The adult plaintiffs claimed they were harmed by their mother's failure to protect them from their father's sexual abuse while they were minors. The court did extend the "discovery rule" to non-perpetrators but concluded plaintiffs were still time barred.

Riley v. Presnell, 409 Mass. 239 (1991)
The court decided that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff knows or reasonably could have known that he may have suffered injury due to the psychotherapist's conduct (discovery rule). The question of when a plaintiff should have known about his cause of action is one of fact.

Web sources

List of child physical & sexual abuse services by Massachusetts county, Mass. Office for Victim Assistance.  
Find resources around the Commonwealth to help you. Services available in each Massachusetts county are listed. If it is an emergency call 911.

The sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Mass. Attorney General.
91-page report with 3 main objectives: "(1) to determine whether children were still being sexually abused, or were at risk of being sexually abused by priests or other church workers; (2) to determine whether the conduct of the Archdiocese and its managers in responding to allegations of sexual abuse, or failing to prevent sexual abuse, was criminal and, if so, whether prosecution was appropriate and not time-barred by the statute of limitations, and; (3) to use all available means to ensure that children would be protected in the future."

Warning signs of child abuse or neglect, Mass. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Lists recognizable physical and behavioral indicators of child abuse or neglect.

Print sources

Defending the unthinkable: strategies for litigating charges of child sexual abuse, NACDL, 2018.

The evaluation of child sexual abuse allegations: A comprehensive guide to assessment and testimony, Wiley, 2009.

Life with my idiot family: True story of survival, courage and justice over childhood sexual abuse, by Kathy and Gary Picard, Lake Town Publ., 2017.

"Limitation of Actions," 51 Am. Jur. 2d Limitation of Actions, Tolling Exceptions §§ 150-196.

Myers on evidence of interpersonal violence: Child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, rape, stalking, and elder abuse, 6th ed.  Wolters Kluwer, 2016 with supplement. Chapter 6: Child sexual abuse.

"Running of limitations against action for civil damages for sexual abuse of child," 9 ALR5th 321.

Sexual assault trials, by Paul DerOhannesian, II, 4th ed., LexisNexis, 2014.

Trying sex offense cases in Massachusetts, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf. Chapter 6: Specific issues with child complainants.

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Last updated: October 25, 2022
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