By Melanie Blow
While it’s horrifying to hear about children being sexually abused in a school, such as the Nichols school, experts are only surprised that New York’s lax laws don’t cause it to happen more often.
Child sexual abuse is a trauma so profound the Centers for Disease Control proved it increases the lifetime risk of poor mental, physical, emotional and financial health for its victims. Traumas that profound, especially when inflicted upon children, often require years if not decades to process fully. Researchers have documented that it takes an average of 21* years for victims to disclose sexual abuse.
In New York most victims of child sexual abuse lose their rights to press charges on their 23rd birthday, due to the state’s statute of limitation (SOL) on the crime. Knowing what we know about how long it takes to disclose sexual abuse, this means SOLs deny most victims access to justice. That is tragic for victims, and a systematic failure to protect all New York’s children.
Sex offenders tend to keep abusing until they experience consequences**, and often victimize a huge number of children. The tools we rely on to protect children from sexual predators, such as background checks and registries like Megan’s Law, cannot work without convictions. The surviving teachers from the Nichols school abuse scandal are still out there, with clean backgrounds, perfectly willing and able to volunteer with youth or simply be the beloved “nice person down the street”, always willing to lend a hand with kids in the neighborhood.
The Child Victims Act will lengthen New York’s SOLs, and give victims already over the age of 23 a year to identify their abusers in civil court. This is the only constitutional way to ensure victims over the age of 23 (for example, the Nichols victims) get a day in court. Convictions make their abusers’ names public, giving concerned people and employers a tool to better protect children.
One of the criticisms of the #MeToo movement is that there is no due process to these public disclosures. Most of these victims, particularly those who were abused as children, have been denied their day in court due to SOLs, and are using the court of public opinion to access whatever modicum of justice they can. While false accusations of abuse are demonstrably false, due process is still important. And opening the courts to all is the way to do that.
Children, victims and due process of law can all be protected with the single stroke of a pen. Unfortunately, the Child Victims Act has been stuck for more than a decade in partisan Albany politics, and its best hope is for Governor Cuomo to make it a budget bill this year. Let’s hope he does it, New York’s children are counting on him.
Melanie Blow of Rochester is the chief operations officer of the Stop Abuse Campaign.