Subcommittee Hearing – Breaking the Silence on Child Abuse: Protection, Prevention, Intervention, and Deterrence
Committee: Subcommittee on Children and Families
Date: Tuesday, December 13 2011, 10:15 AM
Syracuse Child Abuse Cases Spur Calls To Reform New York Statutes Of Limitations by John Rudolf 12/13/11
On Dec. 7, William Fitzpatrick, district attorney for Onondaga County in upstate New York, said he found credible the allegations of two former Syracuse University basketball team ball boys that Bernie Fine, the team’s long-standing assistant coach, molested them in the 1980s.
“These two victims are believable,” Fitzpatrick said at a press conference.
But state prosecutors won’t be bringing any criminal charges against Fine for the alleged abuse, which the coach adamantly denies. The statute of limitations in both cases expired nearly two decades ago — just two years after his accusers, now in their late 30s, passed their 18th birthdays.
Fine can’t be sued either: under state law, the two men needed to file a civil suit against him before they turned 23.
“There is no remedy,” said Jeff Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. “Because of New York law, a child molester is going to get off scot-free.”
Fine would not have fared nearly as well elsewhere in the country. In a growing number of states, legal reforms now allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek civil damages and criminal charges against their alleged abusers many years after reaching adulthood. The reforms are an acknowledgement of substantial research demonstrating that abuse victims often require an extensive period of time before they are ready to confront their abusers.
“People are so messed up that they don’t get the courage and the gumption to do anything until they’re in their 40s — if then,” said Thomas Neuberger, a Delaware attorney who has represented hundreds of victims of childhood abuse. “It takes a person decades before they get the courage to speak out.”….
In the last week, two lawmakers announced plans to introduce legislation extending the time period when victims of childhood abuse can seek criminal charges and civil restitution against their abusers. A previous bill to reform New York’s child abuse laws passed the Assembly three times, but was repeatedly stymied in the state Senate after heavy lobbying by Catholic bishops, who vigorously opposed a key provision to temporarily lift the civil statute of limitations for decades-old abuse.
Yet the intense publicity now surrounding the Syracuse and Penn State scandals may finally push the vote for a reform bill over the top in New York, according to Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and a long-time advocate for child sexual abuse victims.
“I do think in the next year or two or three, it’s going to be impossible for legislators to maintain statutes of limitations that favor predators,” Hamilton said. “The public outrage is building.”
The proposed reforms would bring New York closer in line with many other states, which afford child abuse victims special rights not given to other crime victims or civil plaintiffs.
Delaware has no criminal statute of limitations at all for any sex crime against a child. In Pennsylvania, victims have until their 50th birthday to seek criminal prosecution against an abuser. Six other states, including Connecticut, Louisiana and Missouri, allow criminal prosecutions of child sex abuse for at least 20 years after victims turn 18. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/13/syracuse-and-penn-state-child-sex-abuse-statute_n_1146138.html