Efforts Against Abuse




Sex Abuse Victims, Activists, Flood Massachusetts Committee with Testimony

By Gintautus Dumcius


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 the
"justice gap" created by the current system that they say aids pedophiles
and their enablers. They held a press conference outside the gates of the
State House, before packing the Joint Judiciary Committee to testify.

By the time some survivors are ready to come out and admit they were
sexually abused, "the clock has stopped ticking," said Jetta Bernier,
executive director of the Massachusetts Citizens for Children. "The vast
majority of survivors will never be able to bring their abusers to justice."

The average age of a person coming forward is 42 to 45 years old, according
to Steve Sheehan, co-chair of the Survivor Support Working Group.
A statute of limitations, which sets for the maximum amount of time after
an event occurs that legal proceedings based on those events may begin,
doesn't make sense in sex abuse cases, according Daniel Brown, a
psychologist at Harvard Medical School, who testified before the committee.
"You can't put a time frame on that," he said.

Attorney General Tom Reilly also supported the bill, saying in a statement,
"Massachusetts needs to take the step to eliminate the statute of
limitations altogether on the criminal and civil levels."

The coalition of supporters included Roy Simmons, a former NFL star with
the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants, who was sexually abused
when he was 11 years old. "From that point on, my life became a living
hell," he said.

Victims' submerged memories are often triggered by events later in life. "Sometimes it's the death of the perpetrator," said Brown.

For Simmons, it was an interview with a Vanity Fair reporter three years
ago that forced the memories to the surface. "It never goes away," Simmons
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, said the
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 he had
spoken with Judiciary Chairman Rep. Eugene F. O'Flaherty (D-Chelsea), who
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 noted.
"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 similar bills.

Mitchell Garabedian, a veteran attorney of clergy sex abuse cases, said he
was cautiously optimistic. "Maybe it's been timing. Maybe it's been a
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 be convicted
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 bill.

Coalition members and attorneys also testified in support of a bill lifting
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.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests