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Utah bill to expand statute of limitations for sex with a minor clears first hurdle

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Jenna Nelson said she was 14 years old when her teacher began sexually abusing her.

“The abuse continued for nearly three years,” Nelson, now 39, told a panel of Utah lawmakers Friday. “It was allowed to continue because he gave me a lot of fear.”

Nelson, of Clearfield, said she kept silent about the abuse because she was worried her ill father would either suffer another heart attack and die, or become so enraged, he would drink to the point of a “rage blackout” and “kill the man who was offending against me.”

“I kept quiet about it for 17 years,” Nelson said.

But when she was finally ready to report it, she said she was “hit by the hurdle” of Utah’s four-year statute of limitations for that crime at each turn, whether she worked with the Roy Police Department, Weber and Davis county prosecutors, or the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

“At each step, my reports were investigated and validated, and yet I still could not get him charged,” Nelson said. “I have great reason to believe he still has access to young girls and is offending.”

Nelson sat next to Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, on Friday as she told her story to the House Judiciary Committee as they weighed Handy’s HB247, a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for unlawful sex with a minor to 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday.

Handy, calling Nelson’s willingness to share her story “incredibly noble,” said this bill wouldn’t work retroactively and “ironically” wouldn’t help her situation, but it could help other victims and capture their offenders.

“Although this bill doesn’t allow for prosecution of my case, it may give other victims a chance to seek justice,” Nelson said.

Will Carlson, Salt Lake County’s deputy district attorney, told lawmakers the average age of child sex abuse victims when they choose to disclose the assaults is 40 years old. He said Handy’s bill obviously “isn’t going to get us to 40 or anywhere near that, but this does give us more opportunity for youth who have been victimized to process what’s happened and go to the police.”

Handy called the bill a “small step” but one that could make a big difference for child victims.

No lawmaker on the House committee spoke against the bill. It was endorsed unanimously and forwarded to the full House for consideration.