Terminology 101

Do you ever think legal language is confusing? So do we! Confusion can lead to misinterpretation of the impacts of proposed legislative changes so it is very important to understand the words commonly used by lawyers, legislators, advocates and others when talking about statute of limitation reform for sexual abuse. Some of the below definitions for common legal terminology originated from National Conference of State Legislators, Merriam Webster, and SOL-REFORM.com.

Statute of Limitations


Definition of statute of limitations (SOLs)

1.:  a statute establishing a period of time from the accrual of a cause of action (as upon the occurrence or discovery of an injury) within which a right of action must be exercised — compare laches, statute of reposeb :  a criminal statute establishing the period of time within which an offense can be punished after its commission

2.:  a period of time established by a statute of limitations for commencing an action or prosecution

3.:  an affirmative defense that the statute of limitations has expired

SOLs for child sexual abuse are determined at the state level and vary across the country. FSA is working with federal legislators to establish a federal minimum standard for SOLs in cases of child sexual abuse as well as advocates and organizations at the state level to eliminate them.



Definition of tolling

  1. :  a pause or delay of the running of the period of time set forth by a statute of limitations.

In some situations, a statute of limitations is “tolled”; in other words, the statute of limitations will not begin to run until a certain event occurs. Typically this means that a statute of limitations period will begin when a victim of child sexual abuse turns 18 years old. 



Definition of window

  1. :  a law that eliminates the civil SOL for all victims, even if the SOL has expired

Some maintain that a window is unconstitutional. It is important to understand that because civil SOLs are legislative conveniences which may be changed at the will of the Legislature, a “window” is constitutional. Read Professor Marci A. Hamilton’s legal argument for further explanation.




Definition of discovery

1.: the act of finding or learning something for the first time : the act of discovering something

2.: something seen or learned for the first time : something discovered


As it relates to statute of limitations, “discovery” provides the victim more time for filing civil actions for child sexual abuse because by the time the victim discovers the sexual abuse and/or the relationship of the abuse to the issues in his/her life, the time limitation may have expired. 

Retroactive Law


Definition of retroactive law

1.:  a law that operates to make criminal or punishable or in any way expressly affects an act done prior to the passing of the law — compare ex post facto law

A law with a retroactive provision will benefits a victim if that victim’s statute of limitations had previously expired. If the law is retroactive, it will allow those victims the opportunity to bring charges against his/her abuser.