Senate Must Stop Blocking Legal Recourse for New Yorkers Abused As Kids
December 13, 2017
The #MeToo movement has awakened many to the wide range of sexual misconduct. We've heard of powerful men repeatedly, with apparent impunity, accosting and assaulting women. The contentious Alabama Senate election shone a spotlight on accusations that GOP candidate Roy Moore had targeted young adolescent girls.
With so much news about and, finally, serious consequences for sexual harassment, assault and abuse, many New Yorkers might assume that those who were victims of abuse as children are given fair and ample opportunity to seek some measure of justice. But they would be wrong. Under state law, criminal charges against an accused molester, for most forms of abuse short of rape, must be filed before a victim is 23. Victims who want to seek redress in civil court can only sue a church, school or other institution before they are 21, and can only sue their abuser until they are 23.
Such limits on seeking justice are more than unfair. New York legislators have had a bill in front of them for years to realign the statute of limitations to something that is fair and fits the timeline of trauma that victims of child sexual abuse can face. Yet the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to allow this bill to come to a vote.
"People can't really deal with this issue until they reach adulthood," said Bob Hoatson, a victim of childhood abuse and longtime advocate for victims, told The Journal News/lohud Editorial Board. He joined three other victims and Marci Hamilton, a national expert on the abuse of minors, who talked about the need for New York to expand the statue of limitations for abuse victims seeking legal recourse.
Calling themselves New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, advocates are trying to turn up pressure on Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who has refused to allow legislation to come to the floor, and Senate Republicans who have supported him, including Sen. Terrence Murphy, R-Yorktown.
|Bob Hoatson talks during an editorial board meeting at The Journal News headquarters in White Plains on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)|
The Senate bill (S6575) would allow victims of childhood abuse to file civil actions until they are 50 and would allow the filing of criminal charges until a victim is 28. There would also be a one-year window when cases from any point in time could proceed.
It's hard to understand how Flanagan could prevent a floor discussion and vote on legislation that would support victims of childhood abuse. We've learned so much about how and why victims often repress what happened to them, not even telling loved ones for years, until something — often news reports about abuse — inspires them to come forward. Right now, state law seems designed to protect abusers and the institutions that may have provided them cover.
Hamilton, Hoatson and colleagues Stephen Jimenez, Beth McCabe and Rich Tollner said that Flanagan has refused to meet with them, unwilling to even explain his opposition. The same with Murphy.
|Steve Jimenez talks during an editorial board meeting at The Journal News headquarters in White Plains on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)|
Murphy released a vague statement in which he praises victims for their work, calling them "trailblazers," and promising "to fight to lengthen the statute of limitations for the future to protect all New Yorkers." But the statement does not say whether he supports current legislation or a floor vote in the Senate.
Hamilton said that New York is among the most restrictive states in the nation — along with Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia — when it comes to offering legal redress to victims. Among the states most fair to victims of child sexual abuse is Delaware, which has removed the statute of limitations for civil suits against perpetrators. She said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly leaders and the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference all pledge support, but that the Senate, both under Flanagan and earlier, has been unmovable.
While New York's Catholic bishops have lobbied hard to maintain current law, Hamilton said the blame falls squarely on Republican senators. "They're choosing predators over our children," she said.
|Marci Hamilton, CEO & President of Child USA talks during an editorial board meeting at The Journal News headquarters in White Plains on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)|
Indeed, how can the Senate justify continued inaction in the era of #MeToo?
Indeed, revelations about the sexual abuse of children have been coming out, in stops and starts, for decades now. The Catholic Church's scandals of the early 2000s brought forth victims who had lived in shame for many years. The Boy Scouts faced similar revelations. Allegations against teachers and various youth leaders surface on a regular basis, and we're only starting to get a handle on the preponderance of abuse in the world of youth sports.
Advocates are now calling on Cuomo to include the new statute of limitations, as outlined in current legislation, in his 2018 budget plan as a way to pressure Flanagan to support what's known as the Child Victims Act. Cuomo has used his budget plan to push policy before. This would be a fair and reasonable tactic that might force Flanagan to explain why he's unwilling to support victims of childhood abuse.