Barry on the Offense over Sex Abuse Bill

By Alexander Rich
Washington Post

December 2, 2008

The council voted 12-to-1 to pass the Intrafamily Offense Act of 2008, with Marion Barry casting the lone dissent.

Barry had challenged At-Large Democrat Phil Mendelson, who had rejected a bill from Barry in the council's judiciary committee last week. The bill had been designed to drop any statue of limitations for damage claims from adults who had been childhood victims of sexual abuse.

After a blistering attack from Barry this morning in which the 8th Ward Democrat accused Mendelson of going easy on sexual predators, Mendelson defended his efforts to decide on amending the Intrafamily bill and extending the limitations by several years rather than lifting them completely. It was, he said, the responsible choice to balance the interests of the victims and the interests of any defendants.

The issue had brought out impassioned advocates on both sides of the debate.

"We are pleased that the council accepted the unanimous recommendation of the committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary," said Jane Belford, chancellor of the Archiocese of Washington, who had lobbied against Barry's admendment, which called for eliminating any statue of limitations of claims of damages from adults who had been victims of sexual abuse.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest, said of the vote, "It is extremely disappointing that council member Barry didn't even get to offer his amendment. That is disappointing. All we as victims have asked for is a fair hearing."


At-Large Council member Phil Mendelson, who was under fire from fellow Democratic colleague Marion Barry (Ward 8) over legislation regarding the statue of limitations of child abuse damage claims, said his judiciary committee has been working to balance the interests of victims and defendants.

"The bill that we are moving is a bill that deals with victims of domestic violence, and added to that bill is this measure regarding the statue of limitations of a civil claim involving child sexual abuse. We have already extending the statue of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse."

"We are extending the law from three years to seven years and this is consistent with what other states are doing," Mendelsen said. "There is a balancing act in the interest of justice between the rights of the victim and the rights of the defendant."


D.C. Council member Marion Barry accused Council member Phil Mendelson of being soft on child predators in a battle over Barry's Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act.

In the Committee of the Whole this morning, Barry accused Mendelson of shutting down his bill, which proposes lifting a statue of limitations on claims for damages for adults who were victims of child sexual abuse. In the judiciary committee last week, Mendelson extended the limitations from age 21 to 25 and folded it into the Intra family Offenses Act of 2008.

"He wants to protect predators and I want to protect children," Barry said this morning, as he peppered Mendelson with questions before he was cut off by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. (D)

"Eight members of the council introduced or co-sponsored a bill to deal with child sexual abuse, and in reading the report there is not one mention of that bill. Why is it that? The report doesn't have one word about this important subject?" Barry said.

Mendelson responded, "If Mr. Barry would look at pages 4,5,6, and it is discussed extensively in this report."

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest, was at today's meeting.

Blaine said council members are yielding to lobbying by the Archdiocese of Washington.

"There is a whole generation like myself who can't come forward and what we are asking for is a chance to come forward, expose our perpetrators and put parents on notice because many of our perpetrators are still out there," Blaine said.

"There is so much devastation and people who are wounded, and it is time for the church leaders to step up and do the right thing," Blaine said.

But Jane Belford, a lawyer and chancellor for the Archdiocese of Washington, was also at the D.C. Council.

She said the Catholic Church has worked hard to be sensitive to the needs of those who have been victimized by priest but the church couldn't support Barry's bill because it is simply part of a national effort by a group of lawyers who travel across the country to sue the church.

"As Council member Barry knows, the Archdiocese of Washington has provided assistance and help to victims of abuse for more than 20 years. When individuals come forward we offer assistance, we apologize, we offer therapy, we offer financial assistance to victims and we have never stood behind the statue of limitation to victims to deny help to someone who needs it."

Belford said there is a lack of fundamental fairness to allow a statue of limitations to go back 40 or 50 years when there are no longer any witnesses and evidence has disappeared.

"It is almost impossible for someone to defend themselves," she said. "These efforts are aimed squarely at the Catholic Church. Since the law changed in Delaware, 27 lawsuits have been filed and they have all been against the Catholic Church."


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