Sex Abuse Victims, Activists, Flood Massachusetts Committee with
By Gintautus Dumcius
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 14, 2006
Flanked by abuse victims holding pictures of sons and daughters
and of themselves, legislators and activists seeking to reform state
sexual abuse laws today urged lawmakers to pass bills extending
the civil and criminal statutes of limitations and lifting immunity
protections afforded to charitable organizations.
Members of The Coalition to Reform Sexual Abuse Laws Tuesday decried
"justice gap" created by the current system that they
say aids pedophiles
and their enablers. They held a press conference outside the gates
State House, before packing the Joint Judiciary Committee to testify.
By the time some survivors are ready to come out and admit they
sexually abused, "the clock has stopped ticking," said
executive director of the Massachusetts Citizens for Children. "The
majority of survivors will never be able to bring their abusers
The average age of a person coming forward is 42 to 45 years old,
to Steve Sheehan, co-chair of the Survivor Support Working Group.
A statute of limitations, which sets for the maximum amount of time
an event occurs that legal proceedings based on those events may
doesn't make sense in sex abuse cases, according Daniel Brown, a
psychologist at Harvard Medical School, who testified before the
"You can't put a time frame on that," he said.
Attorney General Tom Reilly also supported the bill, saying in
"Massachusetts needs to take the step to eliminate the statute
limitations altogether on the criminal and civil levels."
The coalition of supporters included Roy Simmons, a former NFL
the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants, who was sexually
when he was 11 years old. "From that point on, my life became
hell," he said.
Victims' submerged memories are often triggered by events later
in life. "Sometimes it's the death of the perpetrator,"
For Simmons, it was an interview with a Vanity Fair reporter three
ago that forced the memories to the surface. "It never goes
told the News Service.
Sen. Steve A. Tolman (D-Boston) said as much as statutes of limitations
play an important role in the justice system, "they are not
sacred . . . What is sacred is making sure laws do not protect those
who violate them."
Rep. Mary E. Grant (D-Beverly), a psychiatric nurse for 30 years,
current system does not protect victims or hold sexual offenders
accountable. "It's important to all of us that we get this
right," she said.
The size of the crowd in the Judiciary Committee room quickly swelled
to over 100 - many of them supporters of the bills - leading court
officers to limit the number of people who could enter.
Similar bills died last year in the same committee.
"I don't think it's unusual," said Grant, who also testified
in support of the current bills. "When you make a change in
an offense that is this serious, people are going to be very careful
to review, to allow more information to come forward, to make sure
they have enough. It's not an impulsive move."
Carmen L. Durso, an advocate attorney for sex abuse victims, said
spoken with Judiciary Chairman Rep. Eugene F. O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea),
had expressed some concern about the constitutionality of the bill.
Durso dismissed the concerns. "This won't affect anything for
a long time," he said, and only the civil statute of limitations
removal is retroactive.
Seventy-two legislators have also signed on as co-sponsors, Durso
"We'll be back as many times as it takes," he said. "It
just means we'll
have to work harder."
"I hope it's legislative inertia," said David Clohessy,
executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
(SNAP). Clohessy added
that in many states, church officials have lobbied hard against
Mitchell Garabedian, a veteran attorney of clergy sex abuse cases,
was cautiously optimistic. "Maybe it's been timing. Maybe it's
misunderstanding," he said. But the "time is now for the
bills to pass," he
During testimony, Rep. Michael A. Costello (D-Newburyport), a committee
member, expressed concern over the lack of safeguards against someone
getting wrongly accused of sexual abuse. "You might as well
with half these cases," he said.
Philip A. Tracy Jr., a senior partner at DiMento & Sullivan
and former assistant district attorney of Suffolk County, said a
third of his defendants were accused of sexual abuse. "I think
these people are victims themselves," having been molested
or raped as children, said Tracy, who testified in support of the
Coalition members and attorneys also testified in support of a
protections of non-profit organizations.
Jeffrey S. Becker, an attorney, said he doesn't believe either
bill goes far enough. "I think the cap should simply be removed,"
he said, since
virtually all of the non-profits have liability insurance.