Monthly Archives: November 2012

Momentum Builds for Justice for Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse

Momentum Builds for Justice for Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse
Today’s criminal indictment of former Penn State University President Graham Spanier for perjury, endangering the welfare of children, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and failure to report suspected child abuse add to a number of current developments moving the child abuse justice movement forward. The continuing prosecution by the Pennsylvania Attorney General in the Sandusky case shows a commitment by law enforcement to fully explore all the University officials who put football and the money that football could bring to the University ahead of the safety of children. Like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts, Penn State University attempted to avoid adverse publicity and chose to protect a child molester rather than to protect children.
The recent release of the Boy Scouts “perversion files” is another positive step in uncovering the horrors of child abuse. The officials at the Boy Scouts of America had kept files labeled “ineligible volunteers” files but informally referred to as the perversion files in an effort to weed pedophiles out of the boy scouts. However, they chose not to call police or notify parents. This failure allowed scout leaders who were child molesters to avoid punishment and in some cases to get back in leadership roles in the boy scouts under slightly changed names. This also allowed child molesters to find other places to abuse children rather than going to jail where they belonged.
Civil lawsuits brought by courageous survivors have uncovered much of the evidence in the Boy Scout cases and the Catholic Church cases that have revealed the huge scope of child abuse in the United States. Most children who are sexually abused by an authority figure such as a priest, scout leader, or coach are in mortal fear of disclosing the abuse that they endured. The survivors of abuse fear that they would not be believed, that they would be punished, or in the case of the Catholic Church that they would go to hell if they told anyone about the abuse.
Usually, it is many years after the abuse that the survivor of the abuse gains the courage and the knowledge to come forward and speak about what happened. This disclosure of the abuse and the abuser is important for the healing of the survivor and also to protect other children from the abuser. Unfortunately, the laws of all of the states in the United States have what are called Statutes of Limitations that the abusers and the institutions that covered up the abuse can use to have the lawsuits dismissed. The statutes of limitations vary from state to state but they all require that lawsuits be filed within a very few years after the abuse or the lawsuit will be dismissed as untimely. These statutes of limitations are very unfair to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Recently, there has been a movement in some states to change or eliminate these unfair statutes of limitations. Some of these proposed changes to the statutes of limitation contain a “window” which allows old cases, no matter how old to be brought within a year of two of the legislation passing.
California was the first state to pass window legislation. That window was open for two years but is now closed. Hawaii recently passed a window that is still open for childhood sex abuse cases that took place in Hawaii.
Currently, there is legislation pending in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania that will open the doors to the courthouses in those states for justice for survivors of childhood sexual abuse if the new laws pass the legislatures and are signed by the Governors of those states. There are many lobbyists for the Catholic Church and the insurance industry attempting to stop these window bills.
It is my hope that the momentum that is building across the country for justice for children will be enough to help pass these legislative window bills to allow for full civil investigations and accountability into the institutions that harbored and protected child molesters.