What’s Next For Child Victims Act In Albany?

The Child Victims Act has not passed this year — but the question remains, what happens next?

The bill was included inside a New York State Assembly budget proposal this year, but was not included in the final spending plan.

Currently, victims of child sex abuse in New York state can only seek civil penalties against their abusers until the age of 18. The Child Victims Act, which aims to extend that age to 50, would also open a “look-back” period of a year for those who were abused at any time. Despite originally being included with the state budget this year, it was removed before the budget passed late last week.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, bringing awareness to a topic that is usually hidden in the shadows.

However, statistics on child sexual abuse are staggering — the numbers show that one in 10 children will be sexually abused in the county before the age of 18. Ninety percent of the victims will know their perpetrator and 30-40 percent will be related.

According to Darkness to Light, a nonprofit that empowers adults to prevent child sexual abuse, this form of abuse is more prevalent than most people realize. In the U.S., there are 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse. Only about 38 percent of child victims disclose the fact that they were abused.

According to the Child Advocacy Program of Chautauqua County, the number of children abused before their 18th birthday in the county would fill 41 school buses. But, seven out of eight of the cases go unreported.

When asked what will happen with the bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told The Post-Journal the passage of the act relied upon “divine intervention.”

“If not for divine intervention, it won’t pass,” Cuomo said. “(Republicans in the legislature) are philosophically opposed to it.”

Cuomo said without a Democratic Senate, the Child Victims Act will not come to fruition.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer representing abuse victims from the Buffalo Diocese, said the act would help “tens of thousands” of victims of sexual abuse to attempt to heal, gain a degree of closure and would help protect children in the future if the act was passed. Likewise, Garabedian said its passage would give victims a chance to tell their accounts in the courts to an impartial forum and obtain documents about the crimes of sexual abusers and the supervisors who were complicit in the cover up.

“Passage of the act would allow victims the opportunity to be believed and rid themselves of the unnecessary guilt and shame associated with being sexually abused,” he said. “Going forward, victims must mobilize to influence politicians to vote for the act and counter the enormous amount of influence the Catholic Church and other organizations have had in opposing the passage of the act.”

Garabedian said the passage of the act is about revealing the truth, accountability and human decency. Garabedian said the opposition of the act by organizations that include the Catholic Church “only strengthens” the negative view victims may have of the organizations.

When asked what would happen with the act now that it was not included in the state budget this year, state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, said work will continue on helping victims of sexual abuse before the end of the session.

“Every victim deserves to be heard and every child abuser deserves to be punished,” Young said. “That is why the senate led the charge to pass the 2006 law which removes the criminal statute of limitations for the most serious sexual offenses, including sexual conduct against a child. The law also extended from one year to five years, the civil statute of limitations to give victims more time to seek financial recourse from their attackers.”

Young said Republicans have “consistently led the fight” for tougher criminal justice measures that would mandate longer prison sentences for those who abuse children. However, she said those efforts have often been opposed by “New York City-controlled legislators.”

“The suffering of innocent children at the hands of depraved individuals is both heartbreaking and incomprehensible,” Young said. “Punishing those who perpetrate such crimes and delivering justice to victims is a priority for everyone. We will continue to work on helping victims of sexual abuse before the end of session.”

Young has not spoken publicly for or against the act.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, said provisions in the act could allow lawsuits from cases that occurred 35 years ago or more. He said at that point, the alleged perpetrator may not even be alive to defend themselves. Goodell said statutes of limitations exist for “good reason.”

He said there is a balance between making sure victims have recourse and there is a “fair, even playing field.” Goodell said the statute of limitations is also in place to encourage victims to come forward in a timely fashion so as to keep the perpetrator from abusing others.

“We want to stop sexual abuse,” he said.

Goodell said there are other ways to address the problem, such as extending the criminal statute of limitation, for which the burden of proof is higher and compensation can be paid through the crime victims compensation board. Goodell said in cases such as these, the “real defendant” ends up being the organization that employed the alleged abuser, not the abuser themselves.

Goodell said child sexual abuse issues are “very difficult.”

Road to Recovery Founder Robert Hoatson said he has been advocating for the Child Victims Act since 2003. Road to Recovery is a nonprofit organization that provides direct assistance to victims of clergy sexual abuse and other sexual abuse survivors as well.

Hoatson said he was a Roman Catholic priest in 2003 when he began his advocacy and publicly called for the resignation of bishops who covered up child sexual abuse in the church. Three days later, Hoatson said he was fired by his bishop. In 2011, he left the priesthood and continued his advocacy for child abuse victims.

Hoatson said the passage of the Child Victims Act would “open the court house doors for justice.” Hoatson said sexual abuse by its nature can not have a statue of limitations. He said right away, the victim is put into “isolation and secrecy.”

Hoatson said organizations are afraid of the Child Victims Act because they fear the “flood gates will open and they will go out of business.” However, just because a case is brought to court it does not guarantee success. Hoatson said the burden of proof is on the victim, not the defendant. He said there is also a precedent for the one-year look back period, such as the suspension of the statue of limitations for one year in California in 2002.

Hoatson said with the unification of Democrats in the New York state Legislature, the tides may be turning. He said 90 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of the bill.

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Those who suspect sex abuse has occurred are asked to contact their local police agency or the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment at 1-800-342-3720. CAP offers child abuse prevention training, called Stewards of Children, a prevention program that educates on how to prevent, recognize and act responsibly to abuse. Trainings are monthly, with a recommended donation of $10. For more information, call 338-9844.

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