New York passes Child Victims Act, allowing child sex abuse survivors to sue their abusers
By Augusta Anthony, CNN Mon January 28, 2019
New York (CNN)The New York State Legislature passed a bill on Monday that will increase the statute of limitations for cases of child sexual abuse.
The Child Victims Act will allow child victims to seek prosecution against their abuser until the age of 55 in civil cases, a significant increase from the previous limit of age 23. For criminal cases, victims can seek prosecution until they turn 28. The bill also includes a one-year window during which victims of any age or time limit can come forward to prosecute.
“New York has just gone from being one of the worst states in the country to being one of the best,” in terms of the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases, said Marci Hamilton, CEO of Child USA and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Hamilton said the bill “represents over 15 years of work by survivors and advocates trying to get around the stiff opposition from the Catholic bishops and the insurance industry” and is a step forward in the national conversation. There are eight other states considering similar legislation….
Catholic Church opposition
Monday’s bill passage comes after more than a decade of opposition from the Catholic Church in New York. In a news conference on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is a Roman Catholic, blamed the church directly for preventing the bill’s passage.
Speaking about why the bill took years to pass, Cuomo said, “I believe it was the conservatives in the Senate who were threatened by the Catholic Church.” The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Monday. In November 2018, Democrats took over the Republican-held Senate….
The fraught process surrounding the recent nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court was a spectacular deployment of institutional power to suppress good faith allegations of sexual violence. Trauma survivors and their allies have been shaken by the public scorn and victim-blaming that occurred when a childhood acquaintance of Kavanaugh’s, Christine Blasey Ford, alleged she had been sexually assaulted by him while they were at high school. Kavanaugh denied the allegation and US President Donald Trump firmly supported him. The matter only became more heated when, after Ford agreed to testify publicly to the Senate Judiciary Committee, two other women come forward with allegations of sexual assault and improper conduct by Kavanaugh.
The response of Kavanaugh and his supporters was replete with the rhetoric of denial. Kavanaugh variously characterized the allegations as part of a “coordinated effort” and “conspiracy” to destroy his reputation and prevent his nomination. President Trump agreed that the three women describing abuse by Kavanaugh were politically motivated. He went on to suggest that one woman “has nothing” on Kavanaugh because she “admits she was drunk” at the time of the alleged assault. Conservative media commentators speculated that Ford was suffering from “false memories” of rape, or had mistaken her actual attacker for Kavanaugh. Such language, reverberating from the White House and its spokespeople and advocates, represents a sustained campaign of institutional betrayal that only compounds the trauma of sexual assault (Smith & Freyd, 2013 Smith, C. P., & Freyd, J. J. (2013). Dangerous safe havens: Institutional betrayal exacerbates sexual trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(1), 119–124. doi:10.1002/jts.21778[Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], , [Google Scholar]), consonant with other policy positions that have profoundly traumatised the vulnerable (Smidt & Freyd, 2018 Smidt, A. M., & Freyd, J. J. (2018). Government-mandated institutional betrayal. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 26(5), 491–499.[Taylor & Francis Online], , [Google Scholar]).
The proposition that allegations of sexual violence are motivated by animus or the product of confabulation or “false memories” has a long and shameful history (Campbell, 2003 Campbell, S. (2003). Relational remembering: Rethinking the memory wars. Oxford, UK: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. [Google Scholar]). Movements against sexual assault and child abuse have routinely been accused of hiding an ideological agenda, or creating the conditions for false allegations by confused women and children. The conflicts surrounding Kavanaugh’s appointment have highlighted the persistence of a culture of disbelief.
However, it is notable that the attempts by Kavanaugh’s supporters to invoke pseudo-scientific explanations for Ford’s allegation found considerably less purchase in the mass media than they might have in the past. Questions about the integrity of Ford’s memory were largely limited to right wing and conservative media, and were rejected in statements from the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation and the American Psychological Association. Progress against the institutionalized mechanics of denial and unaccountability is substantive although clearly incomplete (Brand & McEwen, 2016 Brand, B. L., & McEwen, L. (2016). Ethical standards, truths, and lies. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 17(3), 259–266. doi:10.1080/15299732.2016.1114357[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], , [Google Scholar])….
While I hesitate to argue that we can read life lessons directly from research findings, it does appear to me that the overall direction of trauma research and treatment trends in a particular moral direction. If we seek to find opportunities for trauma survivors to recover and live well, and if we want to promote the conditions in which people are not traumatised in the first place, then we are necessarily advancing moral propositions about human happiness and flourishing. Research on trauma, recovery and psychological wellbeing consistently finds that human beings thrive when we are embedded in emotionally rich, mutual and equitable relationships. This conclusion furnishes us with a powerful and, I think, very appealing image of a good life – one characterized by dignity, equality, accountability, and shared recognition – that the trauma field should not hesitate in articulating clearly. Political theorist Alford (2016 Alford, C. F. (2016). Trauma, culture, and PTSD. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.[Crossref], , [Google Scholar]) suggests that a key reason for the expanding public interest in trauma science is precisely because the concept of ‘trauma’ provides a rare acknowledgement of human relationality and vulnerability in a culture that is exhaustively individualistic and atomizing.
When a person like Christine Blasey Ford stands up to testify to a traumatic event, in opposition to incredibly powerful forces, we can recognize this as a courageous step in the fulfillment of a moral vision that we also have a stake in. The visceral and hate-filled response that has driven her, and her family, from their home is stark evidence of the cost paid by people who challenge the structures of traumatisation. Such costs have, of course, been visited in the past on trauma therapists and researchers whose ethical and scientific convictions have also bought them into conflict with vested interests. However the tremendous support that rallied around Christine Blasey Ford, and that recognised and celebrated her bravery in stepping forward with her story, indicates a growing consensus that opposes traumatizing social formations and seeks an alternative. Trauma research and theory, I would argue, is well placed to elaborate on what those alternatives might be.