2011-12-21 / Features

Markey Pushes Her Bill To Prosecute Child Abusers

BY JOHN TOSCANO


“Researchers tell us that one in five children in America is a victim of childhood sex abuse—most of it at the hands of family members or acquaintances, or by other people they trust and respect...” “Researchers tell us that one in five children in America is a victim of childhood sex abuse—most of it at the hands of family members or acquaintances, or by other people they trust and respect...” With sordid stories of child abuse again shocking the nation, Assemblymember Margaret Markey (D–Maspeth) has renewed her push for her legislation to give child abuse victims more time to bring their abusers to justice.

Under Markey’s bill, the Child Victims Act, victims of childhood sexual abuse would have a one year additional period to pursue prosecution of cases that in many instances are reported many years after they were committed putting their perpetrators beyond facing charges.

Markey’s bill has passed the Assembly on three past occasions, but in each case the bill could not get state senate approval.

Presently, the legislation is again being considered and recently had a public hearing before the Assembly Codes Committee.

Markey stated last week, “Researchers tell us that one in five children in America is a victim of childhood sex abuse—most of it at the hands of family members or acquaintances, or by other people they trust and respect.

“But since most victims of this abuse are not able to report what has happened to them until they are well into adulthood, we know that our current law is inadequate.”

The two most recent cases illustrate this pattern. Both cases, at Syracuse University and Penn State, were committed many years ago and are just coming to light. The Penn State case is being prosecuted, but the statute of limitations, or the period when the Syracuse cases could be prosecuted, has ended and the cases are closed.

Addressing this aspect of abuse cases in general, Markey stated that existing New York law enables many predators to avoid consequences of their immoral and illegal acts by running out the clock on their crime—taking advantage of “arbitrary and out-dated” statute of limitations.

The lawmaker explained her legislation would extend the civil and criminal statute of limitations for these crimes, giving victims “a greater opportunity to have their day in court”. She said it also means that New York can provide an opportunity for previous victims of child sexual abuse to get their day in court.

“I know this bill will also protect future generations of New York children from abuse by exposing pedophiles who have previously been hidden,” she noted.

Markey listed these reasons why passage of her bill was important for New York:

•Current law enables predators to avoid prosecution.

•Her proposal gives victims more time to get justice.

•The one year window provided by her bill would expose predators who may still be active abusers.

•Her bill does not unfairly target agencies, institutions and organizations as liable for events which occurred decades ago.

•Her bill would not lead to false allegations and swamp the courts.

•The bill does not unfairly target the Catholic Church.

•Her bill will help victims of abuse who have claims against public sector agencies.

Regarding the reference to the Catholic Church, Markey expanded it, saying: “Catholics today have long been paying for the past mistakes of church leaders in mishandling cases of abuse. The legal vulnerability and financial burden upon Catholic dioceses across the country has prompted some to ask why the church of today must pay for mistakes that may have been made in the past.

“The truth is that faithful Catholics have been shouldering costs relating to abuse for decades, unknowingly paying for defense lawyers, public relations firms, secret settlements and insurance policies to cover abuse cases. Even despite these once secret costs and the new settlements we read about today, there is no independent evidence that any diocese actually faces an involuntary bankruptcy, despite claims to the contrary.”

Last Thursday, Markey held a press conference in Albany to kick off a Lobby Day rally for her legislation. Three adult survivors of child sex abuse described how the state’s existing statute of limitations prevented them from getting justice.

Among them was independent filmmaker Christopher Gavagan who is making a documentary film, Coached Into Silence, which tells first-person stories, including his own, of child sexual abuse in- cidents in organized youth sports.

The project probes the organizations, institutional and legal systems that he says have silenced victims for life while protecting profits, reputations and in some cases the predators themselves.

Among others participating in the press conference was Robert Kristan who, Markey said, heads the New York Coalition to Protect Children, which organized the Lobby Day for her bill. Also taking part was Mark Meyer Appel, president of the Voice of Justice, who was joined by Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a coalition of 800 synagogues. The National Black Church Initiative was represented by Rev. Dr. Sheldon E. Williams.

At the Assembly Codes Committee hearing in Manhattan last month, Markey said witnesses “spoke about the severe impact of childhood sexual abuse on victims and the reasons why many victims don’t ever come forward about what happened to them until well into adulthood, if ever. They also spoke about the high economic cost of childhood sexual abuse to government and society.”

One witness, Professor Marci Hamilton, of Cardozo Law School, testified, according to Markey, that “there are untold numbers of hidden child predators who are preying on one child after another because statutes of limitation have been configured to give them that opportunity”.

Markey said another strong argument for a longer statute of limitations in child abuse cases was made by Assistant District Attorney Eric Rosenbaum, of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s staff.

Rosenbaum, Chief of the DNA Unit of the Special Victim’s Bureau, said that when that office reviewed backlog DNA evidence that had been collected during a period of 10 years beginning in the late 1980s, they found 75 cases where a perpetrator was able to be identified, but who was not able to be prosecuted.

Markey commented: “We have become all too familiar with the horrendous personal impact of child sexual abuse on individual children and their families. Now, we also know that all of society is affected by child rape and sexual abuse.”

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