Justice denied sex abuse victims: The state Senate must finally pass a bill extending N.Y.'s statute of limitations

Justice denied sex abuse victims: The state Senate must finally pass a bill extending N.Y.'s statute of limitations

By Marci Hamilton, June 15, 2017, New York Daily News

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is currently holding its annual General Assembly in Indianapolis, where no doubt church leaders are discussing politics as much as doctrine.

As they continue to run from their clergy sex abuse scandal, furiously trying to push it into the past, they cannot be happy with the release of Netflix’s “The Keepers,” the extraordinary docuseries about the death of a nun who blew the whistle on horrendous sex abuse in a Catholic high school.

Nor can they ignore the ardent momentum for the passage of New York’s Child Victims Act. It would have been law long ago but for the bishops’ lobbying against it with their alternative facts on how such laws operate.

Until now, New York has been among the worst states for justice for child sex abuse victims. Bills have been introduced to reform the statutes of limitations for these most heinous of crimes no less than a dozen consecutive years in the Assembly, only to die a painful death in the Senate each time as the bishops with their insurance-carrier lobbyists exult.

Indeed, they invest millions and concoct arguments to scare lawmakers away from doing what is right for the unjustifiably exiled victims. They tell lawmakers that statute-of-limitation reform will clog the courts with a mountain of cases and reputations will be sullied by false claims. They especially fight a “window,” which provides the only justice available for victims from the past.

Under current New York law, minor victims of a number of sex crimes have only until age 23 to sue a perpetrator and until age 21 to sue an institution that created the conditions for abuse. These age limits guarantee that predators are rarely identified and institutions operate with abandon. A window gives victims a set period of time when the statute on past crimes is lifted.

New York is considering at most a one-year window, which is very modest. Other states, such as Delaware, Minnesota and Hawaii, have enacted two-, three- and four-year windows, respectively. And Guam took an even bigger step, as it eliminated its civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims completely, backward and forward.

The lobbyists’ arguments could not be further from the truth. A just-released study conducted by my organization, Child USA, pulls the rug out from under the church and insurance lobbyists. It is a simple fact that window legislation has neither produced an avalanche of cases nor any false claims.

In the six states (plus Guam) where windows have been in place, the largest percentage of the state’s population to file claims was in Delaware, at a minuscule 0.019%. And even that number is misleadingly higher than others because nearly 1,000 claims were filed against one perpetrator, pediatrician Dr. Earl Bradley, who is the most prolific pediatric pedophile known to date.

So, contrary to the lobbyists’ histrionics, the courts have not been overburdened and no man’s reputation has been destroyed. That leaves the opponents of such legislation with one other misleading ploy: They mischaracterize the facts by arguing that windows “bankrupt” institutions. Yet the facts show that no entity, including any Catholic diocese, has filed for bankruptcy in the midst of a window because it was indigent.

Rather, the diocesan bankruptcy filings to date — which have occurred with and without window legislation — have generally been a way of reorganizing to protect assets, to keep victim compensation low, and to cut off future claims for past victims.

These are cynical filings. The truth is that victims have been treated badly by churches and other institutions that betrayed them from beginning to end.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan set up a compensation program for sex abuse victims. Even though 200 victims have found some measure of closure through it, it is not enough. It only covers the New York Archdiocese (leaving every other diocese out), excludes all abuse by religious order priests, and does not begin to help the vast majority of those in the state victimized not at the hands of a priest.

Only lawmakers can pass a law for all victims.

Last month, the Assembly took steps to join this national movement. It passed, nearly unanimously, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal’s version of the Child Victims Act, and several bills are percolating in the state Senate, including those sponsored by Sens. Brad Hoylman and Jeffrey Klein. Gov. Cuomo supports the cause; just last night he released proposed legislation, mirroring Rosenthal’s bill. The ball is now in the Republican-controlled Senate’s court.

With the bishops hiding from their responsibilities, New York’s state senators can fulfill theirs by making the only just and right choice on statute-of-limitations reform. They must vote for children over lobbyists and predators.

Hamilton is CEO and academic adviser to Child USA and a distinguished scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.

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