PA - Abuse panel recommendations made public, SNAP responds
We’re disappointed that this panel puts so much emphasis on mandatory reporting laws when there are better ways to stop child sex crimes.
There are two main problems with mandatory reporting laws; they’re rarely used and the penalties for breaking them are rarely stiff. For decades, thousands of adults have ignored or hidden child sex crimes, knowing there’s virtually no chance they’ll be punished.
So even if these two problems are fixed, it will take years and years of vigorous and repeated prosecution by police and prosecutors – and tough penalties by judges and juries - until mandatory reporting reforms will even begin to make a difference and deter wrongdoing.
In contrast, statute of limitations reform –especially a civil window - will immediately make kids safer by exposing hundreds of child sex offenders. It will also better discourage employers from ignoring or enabling child sex crimes in the future.
Stronger penalties for those who refuse to report are good. So are better definitions of child abuse and more advocacy and rape crisis centers.
But these reforms, if enacted, nibble at the edges of child sex crimes and cover ups. Statute of limitations reform is much more effective and immediate. (See statement below)
A crucial oversight by PA child sex task force?
Statement by David Clohessy, SNAP Director (314-566-9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)
The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection will issue a report today. But we fear it won’t address a key issue: safeguarding kids by reforming Pennsylvania’s predator-friendly civil statute of limitations. And if this oversight does happen, it will be an opportunity sorely missed.
The task force members are no doubt well-intentioned. We are grateful for their work and look forward to their recommendations.
But the group is headed by a prosecutor, who deals with criminal cases, not civil cases. And it arose out of a criminal controversy – the crimes of Jerry Sandusky and his Penn State supervisors.
So we suspect the panel didn’t carefully look at ways that civil laws can better protect kids. Based on our 24 years of experience, we in SNAP believe that the single most effective way that secular authorities can do more right now to prevent child sex crimes and cover ups is to reform archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly statutes of limitations – both criminal AND civil.
Specifically, we enthusiastically support proposals – in Pennsylvania and elsewhere – to create “civil windows” that temporarily suspend the statute of limitations and enable child sex abuse victims to expose molesters in court even when other authority figures refuse to take action.
For years, such legislation has been bottled up in Harrisburg, thanks largely to shrewd lobbying by Catholic officials.
Here’s the ‘big picture:’
When it comes to child sexual abuse, three steps must be taken. We must protect the vulnerable, expose the predators, and heal the victims. With virtually no added expense, this legislation achieves all three goals.
In a nutshell, this legislation reforms predator-friendly child molestation laws. It removes archaic, arbitrary time limits that keep victims of these horrific crimes trapped in shame, silence and self-blame. It removes the incentive predators now have to intimidate their victims, threaten witnesses, destroy evidence, and ‘run out the clock’ on their crimes.
So eliminating the rigid, dangerously restrictive statute of limitations is the cheapest and best way to protect kids in the future.
It’s the best because it relies on the open, impartial time-tested American criminal justice system that’s been continually refined and reformed for centuries.
It’s the cheapest because it requires no difficult to learn technology, no untested theories, no risky strategies and no massive, revolutionary changes. Just a simple, small procedural change. We’re essentially just opening the courthouse doors a tad wider, to accommodate brave but deeply wounded victims of horrific child sex crimes and to expose the compulsive criminals who commit those crimes over and over again.
Many recommend getting rid of the statute of limitations, but without a “civil window.” This helps kids in the future. But it won’t protect kids now.
To do that, to help kids NOW, we must help adults who were victimized as kids the chance to expose THEIR predators too.
Eliminating the criminal statute will let some kids CONVICT their predators in the future.
Eliminating the civil statute will let some kids EXPOSE their predators in the future.
And the civil ‘window’ will let some adults, who were hurt as kids, EXPOSE their predators RIGHT NOW.
(Lawmakers in California, Delaware and Hawaii have enacted “civil windows.” As a result, in California alone, within a year or two, hundreds of proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesters were exposed, removed, suspended or fired.)
Someday, we’re confident this civil window will pass in Pennsylvania. Then, no one will say that we took partial steps toward protecting kids. No one will say we did a piecemeal job at protecting kids. No one will say we’re “one step closer” to protecting kids.
When this measure passes, people will know that when it comes to child sexual abuse, Pennsylvania will be among the safest states in the country.
There will be some cases in which a victim will be distrustful of the criminal system. There will be some cases in which the police don’t have enough evidence. There will be some cases in which prosecutors lack the resources or will to pursue some predator. In these cases, the civil remedy will at least give victims an alternative: they can try to expose their perpetrator in civil court, warn others about him and protect others from him.
Keep in mind this harrowing statistic: The FBI estimates that 90% of all child molesters are never prosecuted. 90%.
So we really have just two choices
a) reform the arbitrary, archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations, or
b) spend millions on more cops, better crime labs, and the like.
What’s more important?
A rigid time limit that helps predators? Or the flexible judgment of prosecutors and jurors?
What’s more important?
The safety of the innocent or the convenience of the accused?
In a well-rehearsed manta, the well-funded defense lawyers talk about ‘lost evidence, faded memories and dead witnesses.’ Yes, these are problematic, but for us, the victims, not for them, the predators. Remember who has the burden of proof here-the victims.
Scam artists who do shoddy roofing work and cause harm can only be discovered and prosecuted after it rains. Surgeons who are reckless and cause harm can only be discovered and exposed after patients recover. And predators who cause harm by molesting kids can only be discovered and exposed after those kids grow up, gain understanding, become strong, and find courage.
The well-funded defense lawyers also talk about ‘victims should come forward sooner.’ They’re right. Victims should. But the simple truth is that often Victims just can’t.
How often do you hear of a six year old girl walking to her local police station and reporting that her step father is molesting her? It rarely happens.
They were shrewdly but severely wounded as kids. They shouldn’t be punished for not being able to understand and act according to someone else’s arbitrary schedule.
No one says to a grieving widow “You’ve got six weeks to get over your husband’s death.” No one should treat child sex crime victims this callously either.
Who has the most incentive to expose predators? Really, it’s not police or prosecutors. It’s not the predator’s employers or colleagues or friends or neighbors. It’s those men and women who were sexually assaulted by the predators. So let’s crack open the courthouse doors a bit and give the victims of child sex crimes the same opportunity we give other crime victims – the chance to expose wrongdoers in court.