Although it’s too late for me to benefit from the Child Victims Act, I’m adding my voice to the chorus calling for the reform of state laws that shield criminals who sexually assault children from legal action by their victims.
I was in grade school when my father first crawled into my bed. In this fourth grade class picture taken during the time that my father was sexually abusing me, I’m second in from the left in the first row of chairs. Like many trauma survivors with PTSD, I initially repressed the memories, and only began to recover them at the age of 23. By then it was already two years too late for me to take any legal action against my father, despite the fact that he had admitted – on tape and in front of two therapists – that my debilitating flashbacks were of actual incidents that he remembered too.
Childhood sexual abuse survivors deserve their day in court. The statistics are staggering: 1 in 10 children will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18, and the vast majority of those will be victimized by people they know and trust. Most people don’t realize that sexual abuse of children is far more prevalent than adult rape. In fact, nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) happen to children under 18. Their are 19 of us in this photo, so chances are good that one of my classmates seen here would also endure childhood sexual assault, if they hadn’t already.
It is time for all of us to face up to this scourge that has remained hidden for too long. New York has one of the shortest windows in the country for pursuing sexual-abuse complaints through the courts. Our laws should protect children, not their abusers.
Today I reject the idea that because this subject is repulsive and makes people uncomfortable, I shouldn’t talk about it. That belief, like the current New York state law, only enables child molesters to lurk safely in the shadows, to intimidate their child victims into secrecy and silence, until it is too late for justice. In 1991, my lawsuit against my father was dismissed because of the statute now in question. The laws have changed minimally since then, but they are still woefully in favor of protecting criminals.
After briefly agreeing in 1990 to attend joint therapy and contribute to my psychotherapy bills, my father abruptly changed his mind, withdrew his admission, and shunned me. That’s when I decided to sue him, and I soon learned that the laws were stacked against me and protected him. This is not a new issue. In 1992, I submitted testimony to the Senate and Assembly Codes Committee Regarding the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Offenses Committed against Children:
“The process of repression and recovery of memories for child sexual abuse victims like myself is extremely painful and debilitating. To say that it turns your world upside-down is an understatement. As you start to realize the truth about yourself and your family, you also realize that part of your childhood was stolen from you; that you never learned fundamental things about being a human being, such as what it means to love someone, to trust someone, to be nurtured or to nurture. You realize that you have been horribly confused about the meaning of sex and love for your entire life. And you wonder if you will ever be whole again…”
Once I knew the truth about my childhood, I came to understand that my silence as a child had protected my abuser and not me, and that the secret had festered and grown inside me like a cancer. Finally, I was ready to put the blame and the shame where it belonged, but the statute of limitations blocked my chances of ever even having my day in court, much less seeing justice done. If children are to be protected from the horror of sexual abuse, we must be willing to face and talk about the difficult truth and we must pass the Child Victims Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), which would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits in cases of childhood sexual abuse and open a one-year window for suits to be brought in old cases.
One month from today the current legislative session ends. According to the Daily News, which has been heroically and relentlessly covering this important issue since March, as of last week, the issue was not even on the legislative agenda. Time is running out to bring attention and support to the proposed law. Please help by adding your voice. Tell Governor Coumo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan that our laws should support child victims, not the criminals who sexually assault them. Support the Child Victims Act now.