SEX Abuse Victims, Including Former Speedskater Bridie Farrell, to Call on Albany to Eliminate Statutes of Limitiations for Future Cases
By Michael O'keeffe
New York Daily News
April 20, 2015
|Bridie Farrell, who claims she was sexually abused by speedskater Andy Gabel, is unable to pursue criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit against Gabel because New York statute of limitations on sex abuse cases bars victims from bringing charges after their 23rd birthday. She is hoping to change that Wednesday in Albany.|
Andy Gabel had represented the United States in three Olympics and won a silver medal in the 5,000-meter short track relay at the 1994 Lillehammer Games when he moved to Saratoga Springs to train for the 1998 Olympic trials. Gabel, then 33, was already an icon in the sport - especially to a local high school kid who hoped to compete against the world's very best.
Bridie Farrell was 15 years old and a promising junior skater when Gabel moved to her hometown, and she admits she was "starstruck" by Gabel, especially after he took an interest in her budding career.
Gabel drove her to the practice rink at 5 a.m. every morning, taught her how to properly sharpen and align her skates and even gave her tips on technique, Farrell says. Gabel also repeatedly molested Farrell over the course of several months in 1997 and 1998 she adds a secret she kept for years. Gabel later acknowledged he had an "inappropriate relationship with a female teammate."
"I didn't think anybody would believe me if I came forward," Farrell says. "He was getting ready for his fourth Olympics and I was a nobody and that was my mindset. It is a lot for a kid to carry."
Farrell is unable to pursue criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit against Gabel because New York statute of limitations on sex abuse cases bars victims from bringing charges after their 23rd birthday. That is why she will join other sexual abuse survivors and their advocates in Albany on Wednesday to lobby state lawmakers to approve the Child Victims Act.
The bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) calls for the elimination of criminal and civil statutes of limitations for future child abuse victims; it would also open up a one-year window for victims of past crimes to pursue criminal and civil cases. Markey has asked Pope Francis to meet with survivors of childhood sexual abuse when he visits New York in September. She's also asked the pope persuade the New York Catholic Conference of Bishops to drop its opposition to her bill.
"There is no limit on what is a lifetime of suffering and anguish for so many victims of child sexual abuse," Markey says. "That is why there should be no limit on the ability of victims and society to prosecute abusers."
Attorney Kevin Mulhearn, who has represented victims from Poly Prep, Horace Mann, St. Francis Prep and Yeshiva University, says New York's statute of limitations encourages institutions to cover up sexual abuse.
"The law gives incentives to administrators to not report sexual abuse and hope the problem goes away," says Mulhearn, who will join Farrell in Albany to lobby for the bill. "You might as well call it the 'sex-abuse cover-up success statute' because that is how it works."
Farrell and Gabel both say they did not have sexual intercourse, but Farrell says the veteran athlete inappropriate kissed and touched her. He penetrated her with his fingers, she said, and placed his hands on his genitals. He always told her not to tell anybody about the abuse.
Andy Gabel, front, admited in 2013 he had an "inappropriate relationship with a female teammate."
"Almost two decades ago I displayed poor judgment in a brief, inappropriate relationship with a female teammate," Gabel acknowledged in 2013 in a statement to the Chicago Tribune. "It did not include sex, however I know what happened was wrong, and I make no excuses for my behavior. I apologize to her, and I am sorry for bringing negative attention to the sport that I love."
Young athletes - especially elite athletes - are especially vulnerable to sexual predators, Farrell says. They devote hundreds of hours practicing and preparing for competition. Their families spend big bucks on coaching, equipment and travel. Farrell feared she would be booted from U.S. Speedskating's junior team if she reported the abuse.
Farrell continued to compete long after the abuse stopped, but she was dogged by depression for years. She tried to block it out by focusing on her skating, and later on her studies at Cornell University.
"A lot of it was keeping so busy I didn't have time to think about it," she says. "I tried to numb myself out."
Farrell found that she could run from the memories, but she could not hide. A professor at Cornell encouraged Farrell to seek therapy after she wrote a paper about her abuse for a human development class.
"I realized it was life-changing, and being molested by this guy was really hard," Farrell says.
Farrell went public with her story in 2013 with a reporter from NPR's WUWM affiliate in Milwaukee. She told her story, she says, because she wants to raise awareness of sexual abuse in sports, not because she wanted to lash out at Gabel.
Another skater, two-time Olympian Nikki Meyer, came forward after Farrell went public to say she had been raped and abused by Gabel in the early 1990s.
"There are a lot of positive points to this person, and coming forward was hard for me because it hurt Andy Gabel's reputation," she says. "But in my mind, these are non-negotiable acts."