Perhaps the biggest reason so many states still have statutes of limitations for the prosecution of child sexual abuse is because so few people understand the crime and demand the laws be changed. Here are some ugly facts about child sexual abuse:
- At least 25% of girls and 15% of boys will be sexually victimized before their 18th birthday.
- Over 90% of these children will be victimized by someone they know and trust, often a family member, or someone their family entrusts them to.
- Between 80-90% of children will not disclose their abuse before their 18th birthday.
- In at least 10% of cases, there is an adult who is aware of the abuse, but does nothing to stop it.
- Child sexual abuse survivors are more likely to suffer from mental illness, drug addiction, to be incarcerated, disabled, unemployed, and to live under the poverty line than their non-abused peers. While there is often a direct relationship between the abuse they suffered and these effects, the relationship isn’t always clear to the survivor. CSA survivors often spend most of their early adult life digging themselves out of the wreckage the abuse has wrought upon their lives, not trying to seek legal justice.
With all these facts taken into account, it is clear that many survivors of child sexual abuse aren’t ready to take legal action against their abuser until they are adults. And in New York, that means a five-year period between a survivor’s 18th birthday and their 23rd birthday.
There are some survivors who can sit down with their family of origin, talk about the abuse, and be believed and supported, but this experience isn’t universal. Often, when a survivor discloses the abuse, they are met with disbelief and anger. No one wants to believe that their parent, sibling or partner is capable of sexually abusing a child. Non-offending parents sometimes use dis-belief to combat their guilt. Sometimes, when the person being accused is the mother’s partner, she will chose to maintain a relationship with that partner rather than her child. Survivors who tell their families about their abuse risk being disinherited, having no place to go for holidays, seeing “their” half of the church empty at their wedding. These are hard consequences for anyone to bear, and the decision to bear them takes time to make. Time that New York’s law does not afford survivors.
The survivors I know, personally, who have pursued legal action as adults have done so for several reasons, but the biggest reason is they fear their abuser is going to harm another child. Statistically, most child sex offenders have many victims, with different studies reporting average numbers from close to a dozen to several dozen.
Right now, the Child Victim’s Act needs a sponsor in the New York State senate. This bill would extend the statute of limitations for prosecution of CSA until the victim’s 28th birthday. This isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in towards helping victims find justice.