Multiple female speedskaters have accused a member of the sport's Hall of Fame of sexual abuse during the 1990s. Bridie Farrell and Nikki Meyer allege Andy Gabel, who was in his 30s at the time, had inappropriate sexual relationships with them when both girls were just 15-years-old.
Gabel admitted to "inappropriate" conduct, but any criminal prosecution or civil lawsuit may be barred by statutes of limitation, which define the time limit to bring a legal claim. Here's how these statutes work, and how some lawmakers are trying to change them.
Statutes of Limitation for Sexual Abuse Cases
Farrell told Milwaukee public radio station WUWM that the abuse occurred while both were training in Saratoga Springs, New York, when she was also 15 and Gabel was 33. New York has both criminal and civil statues of limitation regarding cases of sexual assault, which are some of the most strict in the country.
Essentially, child sex assault victims are barred from bringing claims after their 23rd birthday. The limitation on criminal charges for second degree sexual conduct against a child is five years, but "the period of limitation shall not begin to run until the child has reached the age of eighteen." The limitation on a civil case in New York is also five years.
Meyer says Gabel raped her at the national training center in Marquette, Michigan in 1991. Michigan's criminal statutes of limitation on sexual abuse cases also ties charging to the victim's birthday -- "an indictment may be found and filed within 10 years after the offense is committed or by the alleged victim's twenty-first birthday, whichever is later." Michigan has no specific statute for civil cases arising from sexual abuse, but limits assault and battery cases to two or five years.
Limitation Reform Efforts
Partly in response to Farrell's claims, legislators in New York are trying to eliminate statutes of limitations for sexual abuse cases. Some other states have dropped or extended their statutes of limitation recently, and California is one of a few states that offer child abuse victims a one-year window in which to file claims (with an exception for a defendant with prior notice).
Gabel has stepped down from both the International Skating Union and the National Speedskating Hall of Fame, although currently remains a member.