Child Abusers Shouldn't Be Able to Run Out the Clock

04/22/2015 03:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015
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At Safe Horizon, we help thousands of abused children every year to tell their stories, often detailing horrors that most adults would find unimaginable. And then we work closely with the police and prosecutors to bring those who have harmed them to justice. However, there is another side to this story.

We know from our work that too many child abusers are never held accountable for their crimes. This can happen because the abuse was never reported, because it wasn't investigated properly, or because there simply wasn't enough evidence to prove the case. Sometimes it happens because a parent makes the difficult choice to shield an already traumatized child from testifying in court.

And the fact of the matter is, many abused children don't have the emotional strength to face their abusers until adulthood. But here in New York State, adult survivors are faced with the devastating news that if they are over the age of 23, they cannot file civil or criminal charges against their abusers.

For victims of childhood sexual abuse, the consequences can last a lifetime. So why is there a statute of limitations on holding abusers accountable?

There are many stories that inspire us at Safe Horizon to advocate for the removal of the statute of limitations, but one particularly stands out for me.

During a routine check-up at her doctor's office, Kathy*, 25 and pregnant with her first child, unexpectedly broke down in tears. After witnessing her breakdown and suspecting Kathy had endured a terrible trauma, Kathy's doctor referred her to Safe Horizon's Counseling Center, the only state licensed mental health facility dedicated exclusively to treating trauma resulting from violence and abuse.

It was here that Kathy spoke -- for the first time in 13 years -- of the childhood sexual abuse she had faced at the hands of her own father. From age seven, Kathy's father had repeatedly sexually molested her. When Kathy confided in a trusted family member at age 12, she wasn't believed. Alone and disheartened, Kathy didn't speak of the abuse again until she arrived at Safe Horizon's offices.

Kathy's counselor helped her realize that the trauma of her childhood sexual abuse had resurfaced because she was now bringing her own child into the world. With therapy, Kathy was able to come to terms with the abuse and finally begin to heal.

For many victims, part of the healing process involves speaking out about the abuse and seeking to hold their abusers accountable. For Kathy, it was heartbreaking to learn that it was too late to bring her father to justice. Worst of all, she was tormented by the possibility he might still be preying on children.

Many states have already adjusted the time limits for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse who seek justice. New York is one of only five states that have not yet extended their statute of limitations for survivors of these crimes. That's why the Child Victims Act is so important.

The Child Victims Act is a bill to reform the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse and enable justice for more victims of this heinous crime. Child predators should not be able to simply run out the clock. We are grateful to the champions in this effort, including New York State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, and dozens of their colleagues in the New York State Legislature who are sponsoring the Child Victims Act. Safe Horizon is also a proud advocate of the bill.

What will this legislation do? It will eliminate the statute of limitations for felony-level sex crimes against children and it will create a one-year window for adult survivors like Kathy to seek civil damages against their offenders.

Please join us in standing up for justice by signing our petition in support of the Child Victims Act.

Most victims of childhood sexual abuse continue to struggle with the impact of the abuse they experienced long after the abuse ends. The Child Victims Act will allow victims to move on with their lives knowing that justice has been served. Just as crucial, it will protect additional children from suffering abuse at the hands of serial offenders by getting these abusers off our streets.
Please sign our petition supporting the Child Victims Act now.

*Name has been changed to protect the victim's identity.