iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Michele Somerville

GET UPDATES FROM Michele Somerville
 

The Child Victims Act: Justice Requires More Time

Posted: 06/19/2012 11:38 am

I agonized a while over what I felt about the Child Victims Act New York Assemblywoman Marge Markey has been sponsoring for almost five years. Why wouldn't I, a teacher and mother of three, not leap with all possible alacrity to support legislation (against which the Roman Catholic Church in New York is currently lobbying hard) that protects the victims of child abuse?

Because I did have reservations. I know people who claim to have been falsely accused of molestation. I hate the idea that the life of a dedicated teacher or minister might be ruined by false accusations. I learned as a girl, ironically enough from my father, a white, uniformed New York Police Department cop (now deceased who retired as a lieutenant) who worked in some of the most "high crime areas" of New York City, that the rights of the accused must be safeguarded even when emotion says otherwise, for our honoring them announces to the world our (state's) commitment to justice. I work with families in which a parent is or has been incarcerated. I visited a prison for the first time recently. I think the jails are too full and that the corrections system in our nation is corrupt.

But I have been giving the Child Victims Act much thought thought over the past five years and I have come to believe that justice demands that we extend the statute of limitations for reporting sex crimes against children, and that those whose attempts to charge their abusers have been thwarted by current the current statutes deserve their day(s) in court.

It is a statement of the obvious to say that when the welfare of innocent children is involved, attendant questions of freedom can become hard to untangle. It is not unusual for even the most ardent of First Amendment defenders to favor of limiting a purveyor's freedom to publish lewd photographs of children, for example. Child Protective Services removes children from dangerous homes in the absence of due process, sometimes with dubious cause. We go that extra mile for children because they are innocent. United States Americans tend to agree, whatever our other differences are, that the welfare of children demands extraordinary vigilance.

I have been trying hard to wrap my head around the idea that there is so much support, especially in my own (Roman Catholic) church for failing/declining to prosecute adults who rape children. Reading about the trial of Penn State's assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the Vatican sex scandal's manifestation in the diocese of Philadelphia yesterday reminded me that normal vigilance in this is not enough. So warping is the problem of sexual abuse of children that the top bishop in the United States feels no special urge to comment with specificity on claims that he may have paid pedophiles to leave the priesthood expeditiously -- instead of seeing to it that they were charged possibly. Mike McQueary, A witness to Sandusky's brutal crimes spoke, under oath, on the stand, of declining to tell Joe Paterno the details out of fear of offending the legendary coach's sensibilities. What about the sensibilities of the 14 year old boy pushed up against the shower wall? According to the N.Y. Post one of his victims tried to report Sandusky:

Victim Number One eventually broke the scandal open by telling his mother and then a doubting school guidance counselor about what he'd experienced. He said the counselor didn't want to alert authorities at first because, she said, Sandusky "has a heart of gold."

Especially when I consider these crimes (sins) through prism of my Roman Catholic sensibility. I am astonished by the readiness of so many adults who claim to care about children to wash their hands of the abuse of juvenile victims of sex crimes. How much is more evil, really, than delivering children into the waiting arms of those who would rape them?

The pedophile who commits a sex crime acts out of profound illness and compulsion. The witness or superior who fails to report such crime, however, generally commits such a transgression in the interest of self-preservation, or for economic reasons -- not out of compulsion. I believe those who protect these rapists may be more diabolical than the rapists themselves.

Last week's reports about Timothy Dolan put me in mind of the Kitty Genovese aspect of this. Here's a hypothetical, a test:

You're coming home from a dinner in restaurant on Saturday night. It's dark. On the way to the car you see a 13-year-old kid being raped by an adult. How do you respond?

a) You drive the attempted rapist to another parking lot.
b) You give him a 20-dollar bill and tell him to "get lost."
c) You get as good a look at the "perp" as possible, call out "Fire." Call 911 and do what you
can to comfort the child until the police arrive.

We know New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan may think "b" is the correct answer; because he appears to have paid pedophile to leave. We have no details regarding whether these perpetrators were reported -- I like to imagine they were -- but we do not know. What we do know is the cardinal feels no explanation is necessary. We know also that his Holy Father in Rome supports Dolan in thinking that the church does not really need (or deserve) to be told in specific terms how these payments were handled.

We do know that pedophiles do not stop molesting children until they are stopped. We do know that many bishops and superiors did the equivalent of "a"; they transferred pedophiles to other parishes. We do know that taking a teaching position or a Roman collar away from a man who sexually violates children decreases his opportunity, but does not put an end to the predation. We know that for men who are abused by priests and teachers, it often take decades for them to even speak of their trauma, and we know that among them there is greater incidence of depression, substance abuse, sexual dysfunction and suicide.

Yet, in the State of New York, we close the window (on his neck) if a victim older than 23 tries to charge the man who raped him.

Justice requires more time.

Some states don't even have statutes of limitation for sex crimes; they recognize the extraordinary mitigating psychological factors involved, ones which are unique to sex crimes against children.

The Child Victims Act of New York does not call for the statute of limitation be thrown out. It creates a one-year window for those who have, thus far, been constrained, by an unreasonable statute of limitations, from seeking just outcomes through the courts. And it extends the period of time for reporting future cases to age 28.

At present, in New York State, a man who was raped as a child by a trusted cleric or coach must report the crime by the time he is 23. A young man or woman of 23, especially one who has been traumatized by rape, has barely cleared adolescence. As Dr. Richard B. Gartner points out in his June 8th opinion piece in the New York Times, so crippling is the shame, psychological damage and emotional paralysis such abuse causes, that it often takes decades for men to come forward.

It is no secret that throughout the nation Roman Catholic leadership has lobbied aggressively to block this legislation. One of my own bishops (I worship in the Brooklyn/Queens and New York dioceses.) Nicholas --DiMarzio, bishop of Brooklyn/Queens publicly threatened -- amid a spate of parish closings - to shutter parishes that failed to vote for the candidate who was sponsoring counter legislation. Since the bill was introduced, DiMarzio has used his weekly column to warn Catholics that passage of the Child Victims Act would bankrupt the church, and has advised his religious to spread the word in their parishes.

Some church officials and their mouthpieces are fond of pointing out the ways in which the Child Victims Act discriminates against Catholic pedophiles in particular. Often their defense of Catholic abusers takes the form of elaborate indictments of public school teachers and alleged rapists like Larry Sandusky. In what bizarro Christian world might such reasoning be persuasive? The rape of juveniles is too big to boil down to the size of two sibling children bickering at the dinner table over what one gets away with. Stopping children from being violated, not insulating predators and their accomplices, should be the priority.

The damage sex crimes against children does has a long shelf life and can ruin lives. A single pedophile can commit a hundred of counts of sex crimes against children. Sending a predator to a parish five miles or five states away is not a proper moral, ethical or Christian response, because children live almost everywhere.

How does Jesus figure in to all of this? As Christians, we must assume He would love the sinner.

But we must also know, as Christians, that Jesus would not support the sacrifice of innocent children for a price.

What would Jesus do about this the Child Victims Act? It's a no-brainer.

If you live in New York, take a moment to contact Governor Cuomo and your state representatives to show your support for the Child Victims Act (A5488).

 

Follow Michele Somerville on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NYpoet

FOLLOW RELIGION