Fight over child abuse bill turns rancorous


Victims vow to hold lawmakers accountable, Catholic League calls legislation a ‘sham’

Child abuse victims and their advocates are going on the offensive after the Legislature failed yet again to pass the Child Victims Act (S.7296/A.9877) a bill that would make it easier for child abuse victims to seek justice.

Specifically, the omnibus bill would eliminate the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for future victims of child sexual abuse and create a one-year window for previous victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil legal claims against their attackers and culpable institutions such as schools and churches.

An outspoken advocate for the bill, Melanie Blow, highlighted the importance of eliminating the statute of limitations for victims saying, “It takes an average of 21 years for a victim to come forth,” explaining that, by the time a victim has the courage to take legal action, it is often too late.

“This whole place is dysfunctional. Alcohol on Sundays is more important than helping child abuse victims. It’s unbelievable those priorities are more important than protecting kids and providing hope to people who have been through hell.”

— Abuse victim Gary Greenberg

She and other members of the Stop Abuse Campaign met on Thursday June 23 outside the Governor’s Office in the Capitol to present a petition with more than 27,650 signatures backing the bill.

The Child Victims Act is the “most important bill to protect children from sexual abuse,” said Blow, the chief operations officer of the Stop Abuse Campaign, an organization that tries to reduce adverse childhood experiences through public policy. “We need to take predators off the streets.”

The failure by the Legislature to pass the bill led the group to criticize lawmakers’ priorities. The advocates condemned the fact that, while the Child Victims Act bill dies in committee, a bill that would allow restaurants to sell alcohol before noon on Sundays was made an end-of-session priority.

“This whole place is dysfunctional,” said Gary Greenberg, an abuse victim who was in Albany Thursday to help deliver the petitions to the Governor’s Office. “Alcohol on Sundays is more important than helping child abuse victims. It’s unbelievable those priorities are more important than protecting kids and providing hope to people who have been through hell.”

Under current law in New York state, survivors of child sexual abuse have until their 23rd birthday to bring criminal charges against their abusers for most felony sexual abuse crimes.  They have the same amount of time to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser.

According to the U.S Department of Justice, approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the U.S. have been the victims of sexual assault. An estimated 90 percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child, and about one-third of attackers are family members.

As a result, disclosure of sexual abuse is often delayed, usually until adulthood, say the bill sponsors, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey and Sen. Brad Hoylman. Children often avoid telling anyone because they are afraid of a negative reaction or of further abuse or harm at the hands of their abuser.

“While we talk now a child is being abused in New York,” said Greenberg.

This bill would eliminate the statutes of limitation for prosecuting child sexual abuse crimes and filing civil lawsuits for damages against individuals, public institutions and private institutions related to child sexual abuse. This act also creates a one-year revival period for previously time-barred civil actions against attackers and institutions where they worked, such as a church or school.

“The failure to pass this reform ensures child molesters and rapists are still protected from the consequences of their crime, that they are free to abuse thousands of more children,” said Andrew Willis, CEO of the Stop Abuse Campaign, who notes that abuse victims are more likely to become alcohol or drug dependent as a result of their experiences.

The bill was introduced in both houses in April. Assemblywoman Markey fought for the right to screen the film Spotlight in the Empire State Plaza this session during a two-day event organized to raise support for the Child Victims Act. The film depicts the true story of how The Boston Globe uncovered a scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.

The Daily News reported in May that the New York State Catholic Conference spent more than $2 million to lobby lawmakers on issues associated with “statute of limitations” and “timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses,” among other policy issues.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, posted a memo on the group’s website on June 20 celebrating the bill’s failure this session.

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Gazette photo by Simon Rosenbluth
From left, Melissa Blow, Andrew Willis and Gary Greenberg delivered a petition to the Governor’s Office Thursday demanding passage of the Child Victims Act in New York state. Greenberg has vowed to use his own money to unseat lawmakers who oppose the bill.


“The bill was sold as justice for the victims of sexual abuse, when, in fact, it was a sham: the proposed legislation that failed to make it to the floor of the New York State legislature … was a vindictive bill pushed by lawyers and activists out to rape the Catholic Church,” Donohue said in his statement.

Donohue, who is calling for Assemblywoman Markey’s resignation, notes that his group convinced Hoylman to amend the bill to include the phrase “public institutions” in the bill language in addition to “private institutions,” so that public schools would not be exempt from potential lawsuits.

For their part, the victims and their advocates say they intend to hold lawmakers accountable.

“The omnibus Child Victims Act may pass next year, in part because survivors will hold legislators accountable between now and the start of next session,” Willis said. “Because one child is too many, and our legislators should know that.”

Unfortunately for survivors of child sexual abuse, New York State does not currently provide much opportunity for legal recourse. According to constitutional scholar and Cardozo Law School Professor Marci Hamilton, New York is one of the worst states in the nation for child sexual abuse statutes of limitation, along with Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Michigan.