NEW YORK (NY)
New York Daily News
June 19, 2023
By Steve Jimenez
Waiting decades after abuse for due process
Recent news headlines about JPMorgan Chase’s $290 million settlement with sexual abuse victims of the deceased predator, Jeffrey Epstein, made me feel nauseated. Epstein’s victims, who were teenage girls and young women at the time of their hideous abuse, are said to number more than 100. Coincidentally, the settlement comes on the heels of a civil trial in which former president Donald Trump, a friend of Epstein, was found liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll, now 79, and ordered to pay her $5 million in damages. Carroll is now seeking an additional $10 million.
I have mixed feelings about both settlements, not to mention a recurring bittersweet taste in my mouth when I hear of another ultra-rich celebrity finally being held accountable many long years, if not decades, after committing horrific crimes and then covering them up with the help of powerful friends and institutions.
Nevertheless, I felt personal pride, even vindication, when Carroll triumphed. I had played a leadership role pushing for passage of New York’s Child Victims Act, which was signed into law in 2019, thanks in large part to unwavering support from the Daily News. That legislation established the foundation for the Adult Survivors Act of 2021, providing Carroll with a “window” that allowed her to file a lawsuit against Trump.
However, as one of hundreds of child sex abuse victims who have yet to be granted their day in court, I also feel a crushing sense of betrayal by the same system that provided a path to justice for Epstein’s victims and Carroll. For the first time in American history a president was found civilly liable for sexual abuse, yet somehow, the Catholic Church is still managing to avoid full accountability for enabling and shielding child rapists and then using their all-mighty power to hide the crimes.
It’s important to ask ourselves a crucial moral question: why are adult victims such as Carroll (who voluntarily went into a changing room with Trump after they had flirted) granted more urgent justice than child victims who were utterly powerless when they were sexually assaulted?
I am one of the thousand victims who filed a suit against the Brooklyn Diocese — in my case, two years before Carroll gained the right to sue Trump. Yet all of us remain trapped in legal hell as venal church lawyers continue to protect church assets and capitalize on our pain for what amounts to a lifetime for many of us. New Yorkers from across the political spectrum passionately took sides in Carroll’s case, but where’s the sustained outrage on behalf of child rape victims?
My story parallels others: from the age of 10 until nearly 14, I was serially assaulted at locations around New York by a member of a religious order who was my teacher and coach. My abuser took me to bathhouses, steam rooms, parks, and other places for grotesque sex acts long before I’d reached puberty.
Now, as I’m about to turn 70, church officials still can’t decide what my lifetime of trauma is worth to them in dollars and cents. They hardly questioned what I first reported decades ago; on the contrary, they acknowledged the veracity of my claims. Under three consecutive Brooklyn bishops, literally nothing has happened with my case (and hundreds of others) beyond endless stalling tactics and vague talk of some possible future settlement. Will we, the victims, still be alive if and when that ever happens?
I remain haunted by the mysterious drowning of an older schoolmate named Joseph Pesce at a Coney Island pool. Joseph and I had both been devout altar boys, and he was purportedly under the supervision of my abuser on the day he drowned. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the pedophile had taken each of us to some of his same “favorite” places, only at different times. Somehow, by the grace of God, I survived, yet no one has ever been held responsible for Joseph’s “accidental” death.
Should I be happy for the justice awarded to Epstein’s victims and Carroll — justice that I helped make possible by speaking truth to power well before the dawn of #MeToo? Or, should I remain infuriated and disheartened by the corruption that continues to plague our justice system and powerful institutions? Is Carroll a more worthy victim because she was assaulted by a billionaire celebrity at Bergdorf Goodman and I was just a Hispanic kid in working-class Brooklyn when my childhood was robbed from me?
What about the easily-forgotten child victims? When will our day of justice come?
Jimenez is an award-winning journalist and serves on the board of ChildUSA Advocacy.