One woman's journey out of child sex abuse helps reform Massachusetts child sex crimes law

One woman's journey out of child sex abuse helps reform Massachusetts child sex crimes law

By Ivey DeJesus | idejesus@pennlive.com  July 18, 2016 at 7:00 AM, updated July 18, 2016 at 12:32 PM

A highway exit sign triggered the flood of memories.

Rosanne Sliney was 24 years old when the sight of the exit sign unleashed a tide of memories long repressed: Her uncle sexually abusing her in his car.

She was 5. He was her mother's brother, a beloved member of a large Italian-American family from Massachusetts, her godfather.

That one trigger brought back the years of abuse, the pain, shame and guilt. Her uncle did unspeakable things to the young girl – in his home, his car, his business. Rumors long circulated among her relatives, but no adult – not family member, teacher or coach – sounded the alarm. Sliney endured the horror in silence for nearly 10 years, retreating from her school studies and the conventions of teen life.

The flood of memories prompted Sliney to confront her predator. He in turn sent her a letter of apology filled with anguished remorse for what he had done. He had mistaken "sex" for love, he wrote, and had asked God for forgiveness.

Nearly two decades would pass before Sliney worked up the nerve to take the next step: In 2012 she filed a lawsuit against him. Her decision would splinter her family, but she could have little imagined that it would tip the effort to overhaul Massachusetts law.

When it was all said and done, her story catapulted to triumph a movement launched a decade before in the wake of the stunning child sex abuse case out of the Boston Archdiocese. Fueled by the narrative of her story, the movement to reform the state's statute of limitations would, at the 11th hour, bring to the negotiating table the very same powerful forces that for years had blocked reform.

Sliney's story played out hundreds of miles away, but the trajectory of her story – and the efforts of victims advocates who long pushed for reform in her state – parallel the efforts mounted in Pennsylvania to reform the state's child sex crime laws.

"There should be no statute of limitation when a child is sexually abused by a priest, a family member, a coach, a teacher, someone you know and trust," Sliney said recently from her home in Burlington, Mass. "It affects the mind body and soul. Being sexually molested and abused is like murder of the soul. There should be no statute."

Shaun Dougherty, who was molested as a child by a priest in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, says he wants to sue, not for money, but for moral principles.

In her lawsuit, Sliney alleged she was sexually abused hundreds of times by her uncle, Domenic Previte Jr., as a child, starting when she was 5 years old in 1968 and continuing until she was 14 years old. Because her legal rights had expired, the judge...

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  • commented 2016-07-21 10:41:50 -0500
    Much gratitude to this remarkable, brave and courageous, survivor who found the courage to come forward speaking her TRUTH and change the SOL law in Massachusetts.
    Sadly this achievement was one step forward and two steps backwards, as an 11th hour deal was struck with Cardinal O’Malley whose power play was in place blocking the bill to come to a vote.
    O’Malley agreed to the bill moving forward with new language inserted into the bill allowing the Catholic Church to escape accountable, leaving vulnerable children in harms way.
    How many children have had their life’s destroyed by this callous decision?