ALBANY, NY, FEBRUARY 29, 2012 --- Assemblywoman Margaret Markey held a press conference here today to present first-person accounts of abuse survivors. The program was held in conjunction with a Lobby Day by supporters of her Child Victims Act of New York (A5488).
This event is one of three Markey is holding this week to focus the attention of the Legislature and Governor on the issue of childhood sexual abuse and her Child Victims Act of NY legislation (A5488). Tomorrow, Thursday, March 1, 1:00 p.m., speakers will include Henry Miller, past president of the New York State Bar Association, and Albany County District Attorney David Soares.
Speakers today included Professor Marci Hamilton of Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School, a nationally-recognized authority of statutes of limitations across America.
“New York is one of the worst states in the country in the protection of children, and that stems from inadequate reporting laws and shockingly short statutes of limitations,” said Professor Hamilton, “and it appears that the members of the Legislature are now giving the statutes of limitation the serious attention they deserve.”
She added, “At a minimum, there are two reforms needed: extend (and even eliminate) the civil and criminal SOLs and enact a civil window, which would permit victims currently shut out of the justice system to bring their cases against the perpetrators and the institutions that enabled the perpetrators with easy access to children. As I document in, my book, Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Children, these reforms will protect today's children, prevent abuse in the future, and give a measure of justice to victims. The New York state courts have repeatedly held that they are not the place to get these laws corrected -- it is up to the legislature. The Markey bill is the best first step for New York, because it provides a window and an extension (5 years). I would hope in future that extension would be extended again.”
Hamilton continued, “It is well-known that the primary opponent to protecting New York's children is the Catholic Conference, the lobbying organization for New York's Catholic bishops. The bishops, led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, are sinking hundreds of thousands of their parishioners' dollars to fight child sex abuse victims in New York. They are joined by Agudath Israel, which means that 2 religious organizations are the political enemies of New York's children. They have chosen the side of the perpetrators.”
Also speaking was attorney Tina Weber and one of her clients who was among the victims who successfully took their case against a pedophile priest to neighboring Massachusetts courts when they couldn’t get justice in New York. Tina Weber said, “It’s been a year since the conviction of Father Mecure and his sentencing, but in my dealing with church officials on behalf of the men who testified against him, I think the church may have lost its focus. As the single biggest charitable institution in the world, which has provided for so many over the decades, it cannot now step forward when the most vulnerable members need it the most.”
Mark M. Appel, heads Voice of Justice, a support group that works on domestic violence, child protection and other social justice issues largely in the Jewish community. He introduced a young man his group is working with, Schneur Bornstein, who reported his abuse at the hands of a yeshiva rabbi to authorities but whose case did not go forward before the current statute of limitations expired for him.
Mark Appel said, “Passing the Child Victims Act is the only way we can ensure that past predators are taken off our streets and bring closure to survivors like Joel Engelman, Schneur Bornstein and others. 2012 is our year of hope to ensure that students of Penn State, Syracuse and children around the state in parochial schools and yeshivas are safe in our communities and past abusers taken off the street.”
Also speaking on the program was Rabbi Gershon Tennenbaum, President of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, an organization that represents more than 850 synagogues. Rabbi Tennenbaum has been a vigorous advocate for the Child Victims Act over several years.
Award-winning journalist and television producer Steve Jimenez was another speaker on the program. Mr. Jimenez said, “My abuse began when I was 10 and continued until shortly before my 14th birthday. It occurred on school grounds, in Prospect Park, at city beaches, in bathhouses, and during class outings. Like most abuse victims, I concealed my secret and shame until the symptoms of post-traumatic stress overwhelmed my life and I was forced to seek decades of treatment.”
According to Jimenez, he has had several meetings with officials of the Brooklyn Diocese including the most recent two bishops. "I've tried talking with them since 2002 and they've done absolutely nothing, other than acting as if they're the ones that have been victimized rather than the other way around," Jimenez said. "It's upsetting to see other communities around the nation taking the lead for years in offering reparation and healing to abuse victims, while New York State has lagged so far behind."
The Lobby Day activity for the Child Victims Act of New York was coordinated by the New York Coalition to Protect Children (www.nyprotectchildren.org). The group has an active on-line petition available so that the general public can reach out to their own local legislators as well as the Governor and the top leaders of the Assembly and the State Senate. It is at nychildvictimsact.org An earlier on-line initiative on behalf of the bill in a previous session of the Legislature resulted in sending more than 70,000 petitions to the Governor and legislative leaders.
Robert Kristan, who heads the Coalition said: “Studies that show 90% of child sexual abuse is not reported. That can mean only one thing--that the thousands of unknown abusers in New York puts tens of thousands of children in jeopardy every day. The only proven way to find these predators is to allow their victims to identify them whenever they are able to do so, not when an arbitrary law says they can. Only the reforms of the Child Victims Act will makes this possible. We're here to carry that message to New York's legislators.”
Markey’s Child Victims Act has been adopted by the Assembly four times, in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. However it has failed to succeed in the State Senate. The bill will extend the current statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes by five years, to age 28, and will also completely suspend the civil statute of limitations for one year. This will help expose older crimes and make it possible to identify previously hidden abusers through the discovery process in court, exposing them and those who have shielded them to ensure they can never abuse a child again.
“Laws in New York are so lax that many perpetrators evade exposure by waiting out the short statute of limitations. I want to change that because pedophiles who are not exposed will continue to abuse yet more children in the future,” the Assemblywoman said.