Fighting to reform child sex abuse laws

Important new legislation would finally give childhood sexual abuse victims a voice. New York is one of five states that has not yet eliminated or extended its statute of limitations laws on child sexual abuse, so pedophiles can now hide behind the statute of limitations under current law, and not be prosecuted for sexually abusing a child if the victim doesn’t press charges before the age of 23.

A growing number of bi-partisan lawmakers are hoping to change that. If the state Legislature passes this bill (reintroduced this session), criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes in New York would be eliminated. As of press time, the bill had yet to be made a law. The trauma of childhood sexual abuse leaves life-long scars and most victims don’t come to terms with what happened to them until they’re adults.

One in five children in America is a victim of childhood sexual abuse, most by family or family acquaintances or other people they trust and respect. The Child Victims’ Act of New York (A2872/S63) will provide victims of abuse greater opportunity to have their day in court and will ensure that sexual predators are identified, stopped and punished, according to Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D–Queens), who sponsored the Child Victims Act to eliminate the criminal and civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes, as well as establish a one-year window for victims to bring civil lawsuits against people or institutions in older cases that were exempt because of the existing statute of limitations.

Markey first introduced important legislation concerning child sexual abuse in 2005. Her legislation has been overwhelmingly adopted by the Assembly four times, but is still pending. Marking April as “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month,” the Assemblywoman hosted friends and supporters of the Child Victims Act, during an advocacy day in Albany on April 22.

Earlier this year, she stated: “The New York State Legislature has started a new session with many newly-elected members in the Assembly and new leadership in the office of the Speaker. Educating them about the issue of child sexual abuse and its damaging impact on survivors and society is a high priority for me over the coming months.”

Under current law, alleged abuse victims, like one native New Yorker who can’t be named because of ongoing litigation, have no recourse. By eliminating the statute of limitations, victims can bring their claims regardless of whether or not DNA evidence is available.

As a mother of two, the alleged victim feels strongly that it would be a really good thing if that happened. She was one of those children and believes she “fell through the cracks.” Struggling to lead a normal life after years of alleged abuse that left her shattered, she said she was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. When she was just a tot, her mother — an immigrant and hardworking single mom — had no choice but to leave her with a (male) relative when she was at work. He was her babysitter until she was about 9, and claims her experience was a nightmare. She says her schooldays were filled with fear and anxiety, when she dreaded coming home every afternoon because she knew what was awaiting her. Like most victims, she said she was warned not to say anything to anyone. She hasn’t, until recently, when she started advocating for victims’ rights and encouraging more awareness in city schools. She strongly supports all causes for children.

Sadly, she says, so many people dropped the ball in her case, from the education system to the police (she said her mother had called them when she finally found out about the abuse), to the social worker who she says visited her home once and never came back. She recalled there were times when she would go into her own little world; she’d have a sort of out-of-body experience when she couldn’t cope with what was happening to her.

“I would get withdrawn or yell and scream!” she said. Even today, she has episodes where she feels like she’s zoning out, and has been seeking therapy.

Assemblywoman Markey addressed her situation, saying it, “is all too typical of many survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The crime has a lifelong impact on victims and their families. There is no limit on what is a life-time of suffering and anguish for so many victims of child sexual abuse. That is why there should be no limit on the ability of victims and society to prosecute abusers. Nor should there be any limit on holding accountable those institutions and organizations that have deliberately protected and hidden perpetrators. Their actions make it possible for pedophiles to continue to prey on new victims.”

Like most abuse victims, she is haunted by her past experiences daily. She says that since her children were little, she’s been highly overprotective of them.

“With research showing that one in five of all children in the U.S. are sexually abused, it is not only important to raise public awareness about this scourge,” said Markey. “It is also vital that we reform outmoded laws to provide justice for victims and expose pedophiles and those who hide them, also helping to protect future generations of children from abuse.”

Since so many abused children are not able to come to grips with what has happened to them until much later in life, it is the victims who suffer most as a result of our state’s archaic statute of limitations for these offenses, she claimed.

“Future generations of children are also at risk as pedophiles go unpunished for their crimes and can easily remain hidden and continue their abuse under current law,” Markey said.

Let’s send a powerful message to lawmakers.

For additional resources visit: assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Margaret-M-Markey or forwomen.org, Ms. Foundation for Women.

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