Sexual abuse casts long shadows and causes long-lasting effects on its survivors, particularly children. Especially tragic, most abused children are abused by an adult whom that child knows and trusts. This abuse by anyone, especially by a child’s parents or close family friend, often causes lifelong emotional damage. Survivors generally do not recognize the extent of their abuse until many years later.
This late onset or delayed discovery has made it difficult for courts to provide redress. Although technically children could sue their abuser when the abuse occurs, children generally do not know they have a cause of action, nor do they have structures around them directing them to their legal rights. For this reason, in 2015, Georgia’s legislature provided survivors with a statutory civil cause of action via the Hidden Predator Act (HPA), Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 9-3-33.1. The HPA allows survivors to bypass what would otherwise be time-barred claims and, in theory, to sue their abusers for monetary damages during adulthood once the survivors become aware of their abuse.
The HPA provided a brief period that allowed for childhood sexual abuse survivors to sue for previously time-barred civil claims arising out of their abuse.6 Under this brief period, the plaintiff in Harvey v. Merchan,7 Joy Caroline Harvey Merchan (Merchan), sued her parents for twenty-two years of sexual abuse.8 With Harvey, the Georgia Supreme Court paved the way for childhood sexual assault survivors to sue in Georgia for their abuse that occurred out of the state.9
Alexandra H. Bradley, Creating a Civil Remedy in Georgia for Survivors of Out-of-State Childhood Sexual Abuse, 73 Mercer L. Rev. 1477 (2022).