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Another Voice: Extend the statute of limitation for child sexual abuse

By William Canavan

Sexual abuse of infants, children and adolescents is a common occurrence.

Scientific efforts to measure this problem indicate that approximately one in three or four girls and about one in six or seven boys are subjected to some form of sexual abuse. This child sexual abuse is more common than asthma, diabetes and seizure disorders combined, and they are among the most common childhood diseases. This abuse causes long-lasting significant psychological trauma to the child. It exacts a terrible toll. This psychological trauma often leads to risky maladaptive behaviors that cause very serious long-term adult physical diseases that result in disability and early death.

The human brain does not finish physical maturing until a person is in his or her mid-20s. Very often, a person needs that maturation to be completed before healing of the psychological trauma can progress. Even then, that process may take years.

Consistent with these considerations, a bill to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse was introduced last year in the New York State Legislature. The measure passed in the Assembly. It was endorsed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. However, State Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan, did not bring the bill to the Senate for a vote. The bill could come up again in the new Legislature term, which is underway.

As a Western New York pediatrician taking care of minors reported to be victims of child sexual abuse, it is my opinion that the bill should become law and thus extend liability for criminal charges to 28 years old from 23 and extend the liability for civil lawsuits to 50 years old from 21. There would also be a one-time, one year period in which cases from any time could go to court.

This bill would give victims time to mature and then get enough therapy to have the psychological strength to pursue justice in court, where a decision validating their claim often enhances the therapeutic effect for them. Any elected official not voting for this bill is an accomplice to the abuser in that the victim is not allowed to be validated and the trauma from the abuse is less likely to be resolved. Likewise, not voting for this bill amounts to being an accomplice to future crimes, since the abuser can remain free to abuse again.

All of us should contact our representatives in the New York Assembly and Senate and our governor and ask them to support and vote for this bill for the sake of so many children who are so vulnerable and have so little voice of their own. If our elected officials fail to vote for this bill, we should ask them whose wishes they served instead of children in need.

William Canavan, M.D., is a pediatrician in a hospital clinic. He also works with the Child Advocacy Center in Buffalo. 

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