Shocked to learn three years ago that a seven-year statute of limitations existed on crimes of child sexual abuse in Georgia, state Rep. Ben Harbin attempted to change the law.
Harbin said his surprise continued as each year he filed a bill to end the statute of limitations, it met resistance from fellow lawmakers. He said the bill never even made it out of committee.
But with the national media attention given to accused child molesters and former coaches Jerry Sandusky of Pennsylvania State University and Bernie Fine of Syracuse University, Harbin thinks another bill he prefiled Thursday now has traction.
Considering the media exposure, Harbin said, voting against a bill protecting children from sexual predators would be tantamount to political suicide.
“I think we’ve got support enough that we can move forward on this bill,” the Evans lawmaker said Friday. “I hate to say we’re using that (media attention), but if that’s what it takes, then so be it.”
House Bill 676, if approved when the General Assembly session starts anew next month, would end the statute of limitations on sex offenses committed against children, including child molestation and aggravated child molestation.
“The (current) law is providing protection to those who have committed a crime if someone doesn’t come forward soon enough. ... This is one (offense) I cannot in any way see how you can justify protection in statute of limitations,” Harbin said.
Harbin first learned of the statute of limitations protecting child sexual predators from area radio personality Scott Hudson.
Four years ago, Hudson said he tried to seek punishment for a man he said molested him as a child.
Hudson, who works part time with WGAC and co-owns Cheers Wine and Beverage in Augusta, said he called Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle.
Though Whittle substantiated his claims, Hudson said, the statute of limitations on those crimes had long since passed, leaving authorities powerless to pursue criminal charges.
Children often feel powerless to accuse an adult of illegal sex acts at the time of the abuse, Harbin said.
“As adults, (sexual abuse victims) feel more empowered to fight back,” he said. “I want them to have the power to come forward, which they don’t have under current law.”