Truth without limitations: The facts back allowing adults justice for childhood sexual abuse

Friday, June 3, 2016

With the days dwindling in Albany’s legislative session, two perniciously false arguments stand between victims of child sexual abuse and access to the legal system that could bring those who harmed them to justice.

The victims are seeking legislation that would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on sex crimes, extend the statute of limitations on civil suits that now ends when a victim turns 23 and give victims who have been barred from the courts a fresh one year to file suits.

Although priests are by far a minority of those who commit sex crimes against minors, the Catholic Church has pressed the Legislature to squelch the so-called one-year look-back, while supporting the other measures.

The first perniciously false argument voiced by church representatives and like-thinking legislators was best expressed last month to the Daily News by Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle of Rochester:

“With each passing year, it gets harder and harder to reconstruct the truth.”

Republican Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco of Syracuse conveyed the second argument directly to victims:

Giving adults abused as kids the power to go back and press criminal charges or file lawsuits would invite fabricated claims of abuse against the innocent.

Neither knows what the hell he’s talking about — and Linda Fairstein does.

Fairstein served for 26 years as the chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Special Victims Bureau. As she explained in a Daily News article on Thursday, her prosecutors routinely won criminal cases against rapists years after the fact — by dint of diligent detective work to corroborate testimony from victims, with cases often hinging on evidence harbored by perpetrators long after the fact.

False claims, she says, came rarely, at less than 2% of the total. Prosecutors weed those out, as do judges and juries.

Overwhelmingly in her experience, the challenge was not deflecting false claims but advancing legitimate ones, so terrified are many sex-crime victims at the prospect of reliving their trauma in court.

Legislative leaders’ objections are, in short, made-up nonsense, covering for institutions fearful of civil liability for any complicity with predators.

Feared most of all is the one-year look-back window — but there is hope on that score. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie signaled for the first time Thursday that he might be open to some form of the concept.

As he and his colleagues wrestle with the issue, they need to closely consider what hangs in the balance.

On one hand, it comes down to protecting people and institutions from having to pay money to childhood sex crime victims.

On the other hand, it is a matter of giving those very real and numerous victims a chance to seek reparation for terrible harms through a court system that is designed to weigh evidence and reach fair resolutions.

In all decency, there should be no competition between the two considerations.


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