HI- Testimony backing statute of limitations reform

David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell. ([email protected]

(Hearing is Friday, February 7 at 2 p.m. in Hawaii.) 

I strongly support SB 2687 and HB 2014. By way of background, I have been the director of SNAP for 25 years. Four boys in our family, including me, were molested as kids by the same predator priest. One of the victims, my younger brother, grew up to become a priest. Because he molested kids as well, my brother is now suspended from the priesthood.

When it comes to child sexual abuse, three steps must be taken. We must protect the vulnerable, expose the predators and enablers, and heal the victims. With virtually no added expense, legislation that lifts the statute of limitations 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 and enablers now have to intimidate 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 most effective 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 expensive, fancy new 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.

This move, getting rid of the statute of limitations, helps kids now and in the future.

When this bill passes, people will know that when it comes to child sexual abuse, Hawaii is in the forefront.

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 and prosecutors do not have enough evidence. 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.

There will be some cases in which a victim will be determined to get a predator locked up.

The FBI estimates that 90% of all child molesters are never prosecuted. That's right: 90%.

So we have two choices:

1.     reform the arbitrary, archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations, or

2.     spend millions on more cops, better crime labs, and the like. 

Please ask yourselves: 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, realize they're hurting, become strong, and find courage.

The well-funded defense lawyers also claim ‘Victims should come forward sooner.’ They’re right. Victims should. But the simple truth is that often, victims simply 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 should not 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 6 weeks to get over your husband’s death.”

If you could have no statute of limitations for just one crime, I suggest you make child molestation that crime.

Murders are usually discovered promptly. With murder, there’s usually physical evidence, and murderers usually only murder once.

Child sex crimes are usually discovered years later. There’s often no physical evidence. And child molesters almost always molest again.

So today, please tell kids that their safety matters. Please tell child sex abuse victims that their healing matters. And please tell those who would commit and conceal heinous crimes against children that they'll get no special breaks in Hawaii.

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  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-02-09 04:13:12 -0600
    I too was abused in the 1960’s and the predator, a Sister of Mercy, has been and remains protected by civil law, the NY Statute of Limitations.
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2014-02-08 22:37:46 -0600
    This reform NEEDS A NATIONAL LAW TO ABOLISH STATUE OF LIMITATIONS FOR CHILD SEX ABUSE - I have emailed our president and my congressman- all of you need to do the same-not just me-I was abused in the 1960’s where sol is over and my abuser—(2) still walk free—you need to know you are not alone and need justice.
  • Friend E
    commented 2014-02-08 17:31:51 -0600
    The above is an excellent post. I am not looking for a lawsuit but emotionally my experience with a parish priest in a counseling situation took a great toll. At that time I was a senior in High school through my freshman year of college. I felt like the most horrible person on this earth when he was transferred without a word. The memories of what I thought was being loved and cared about still haunt me. Now all these years later if nothing else I need to know what happened with him and why the church handled it the way they did without any regard for the young person left behind. Was he allowed to counsel other young people? It took years to understand this was not a therapeutic relationship! There needs to be reform of the statue of limitations for those survivors….It is not about money, it’s about healing and closure for those who were afraid to tell, and moving forward no matter how old that person is now.
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