Equal Justice for All Kids on Sexual Abuse
New York Daily News
March 30, 2016
With cases of sexual abuse of minors involving institutions and individuals of all backgrounds — public, private and sectarian schools; foster-care agencies and foster parents; teachers; priests; rabbis; football coaches, and on and on — a reform of New York’s antiquated and nationally out-of-step statutes of limitations on sex crimes against minors must be sweeping and fair:
• Laws must be consistent for all offenses, in criminal and civil courts alike.
Allowing a victim to press criminal charges or to file a civil suit forever for some crimes but limiting them from going to court for other, very similar sex offenses is nonsensically unjust.
To cite one example, there is no statute of limitations if a predator repeatedly penetrates a child with an object and causes injury — meaning that such a victim could go to court or seek criminal charges at any point in his or her adult life. But if the same predator inflicts the same repeated penetration but does so without physical injury, the victim must seek action by the age of 23.
• Since child sex abuse victims can need decades to come to terms with their victimization, equalized statutes of limitations must be extended, if not forever, then at least into a reasonable period of adulthood.
• The statute of limitations on filing suits must be equalized for cases against perpetrators and enablers. For a perpetrator, it is five years, but only three years for an enabling institution, such as a school or church. The distinctions smack of power lobbying in the state capital.
• All institutions that are responsible for protection of the welfare of minors must be treated equally before the law.
|Front page of the New York Daily News for March 29, 2016 on child sex abuse statute of limitations: "Oh, you were raped? Too bad."|
A minor has three years after the age of 18 to sue private institutions like a church, school or summer camp that failed to protect their charges. But as the law is now written, extending the three years would, in effect, apply only to private institutions, and not to local government institutions, such as the public schools.
Government agencies get shielded because a separate statute requires victims to file notice 90 days after an offense that they plan to sue. (Judges may make exceptions but aren’t required to.)
The inequity is a major factor in the state Senate’s reticence to join with the Assembly in reforming the statute of limitations. As long as public schools and social welfare agencies have extra protection, many senators don’t want to appear singling out religious organizations for litigation.
The 90-day notice of claim exists for a legitimate reason: So cities can keep track of anticipated legal bills . You fall a on broken sidewalk and break your leg, you generally have no problem filing a notice of claim within 90 days.
But a 14-year-old kid who is living with the secret shame of having been sexually abused has no reasonable capacity to file a notice of claim within 90 days.
Protect children, without fear or favor.