To clear up any confusion about the New York child sexual abuse SOL reform bills currently cycling through the Senate and Assembly, I’ve compiled a handy FAQ, thanks to my fellows at the Stop Abuse Campaign.
- What are Statue of Limitations? They are laws that say that a survivor of sexual abuse cannot bring their case to trial after they reach a certain age. In many states the statute of limitations is the victim’s 18th birthday, or a few years after their 18th birthday. It takes the average survivor 21 years to overcome the shame and stigma of abuse. That’s why the Stop Abuse Campaign supports bills that eliminate both the criminal and civil statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse
- Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on recent crimes? Sex offenders rarely stop offending until they are held accountable. Since offenders will offend from adolescence until their eighties prosecuting old crimes protects a lot of today’s children. Studies show sex offenders often having up to three hundred victims throughout their lives. This means that every opportunity to prosecute them is a real opportunity to protect children.
- Aren’t most cases fabricated? Research shows it is very rare for adults or children to fabricate a claim of sexual abuse. If they try, they will usually be caught during their initial questioning by the police. The fact that evidence fades over time means it is very hard to convict a decades old case. But it happens and we encourage all survivors to report their abuse when they can.
- Why do SOL’s need to be changed in civil court too? Retroactive justice in criminal courts is unconstitutional. So when an adult survivor is too old to seek justice in criminal court because SOL’s have expired changing the criminal SOL’s is not enough. Retroactively suing your abuser for damages in civil court is constitutional, if the state passes a law allowing for it. Survivors seek justice for many reasons, protecting children from the consequences they themselves have endured is usually top of their list. Where criminal courts cannot act civil courts can. This way lists of offenders found liable in civil court can be published and can be used in background checks.
- How can you prove you were sexually abused years ago? Even if a child discloses sexual abuse when they are still a child, it is exceptionally rare for them to disclose it immediately after the abuse happens. They often wait months or years. Prosecutors are used to prosecuting cases where a lot of time has elapsed between the abuse and the trial. Children are notoriously poor witnesses. They often have only moderate effect, with their developmental abilities brought into question. Judges and juries often expect to see medical evidence. Adult witnesses have some advantages that children do not. Adult victims of the same abusers can meet and corroborate. They can sometimes get their abuser to confess. They can speak more articulately. And they can seek appropriate medical and psychological treatment for themselves.
- Surely children will disclose abuse to protect themselves. Abusers use lot’s of techniques to stop children from disclosing. They will threaten and manipulate the children. They often become a major part of the child’s life; providing them with love, security, gifts, attention and other helpful hooks. Grooming desensitizes children to touch, including sexual touch, over time. Around half of abusers are a part of the child’s family. Relatives rarely suspect each other, and statistically are unlikely to believe or help a child who discloses to them.
- Doesn’t statue of limitations exist for a reason? Yes, they do. Usually most people are interested in prosecuting a crime immediately after they have victimized. Their is usually more evidence that a crime has been committed immediately after the crime has been committed. Child sex abuse is different. Children cannot press charges themselves. They often don’t have an adult who believes or advocates for them. Children rarely name their abuser while they are still children. A recent study shows it takes survivors, on average, 21 years before they can speak about their abuse. As the average age of first victimization is 9 years old the problem that SOL’s cause by locking survivors out of courts is clear. There are no statutes of limitations for murder in any state. Many cities have no statutes of limitations for parking tickets. And that’s why some states, like North Carolina, have removed their statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse.
- Isn’t it better to teach survivors to forgive and move on with their lives? SOL reform is mostly about protecting today’s children although some survivors find the experience of bringing their abuser to trial healing. Others find forgiving their abuser is healing. For many survivors though the two are not incompatible. Being sexually abused raises your ACE score, and costs survivors an estimated $210,000 in medical care and lost earnings, regardless of whether they forgive their abuser or not. The way one survivor chooses to heal should not prevent another survivor’s right to bring their abuser to court, nor should it deny future children the right to be protected from abuse.