CHILD SEX ABUSE STATUTES OF LIMITATION
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Excerpt from “Justice Denied” on Ohio’s History with SOL Reform
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is no different from any other determined legislative player – if it cannot win on its own merits, dirty tricks will do. Survivors of clergy abuse spent two solid years of their lives talking to Ohio legislators, attending hearing, and holding rallies to make the point that child sex abuse survivors deserve SOL reform and window legislation. It was one of the most impressive grassroots movements I have ever witnessed. The Senate passed the bill unanimously. But the bishops held the upper hand, and late in the night the window bill will supposed to finally pass in the Ohio House, the bishops succeeded in making the bill disappear.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) were early proponents of SOL reform beyond California and fought hard in Ohio to get a window passed. The proposed law extended the SOL for all current and future childhood sexual abuse claims, and, like California’s law, opened a one-year window during which the SOL did not apply. The proposed law also mandated that clergy, like others who come into contact with children in their jobs, must report childhood sexual abuse.
In the Ohio Senate, the stars aligned for SNAP perfectly. An Ohio resident and firefighter, Tony Comes, recently had been the subject of an Academy Award-nominated HBO documentary, Twist of Faith (2004). I was there the day the Senate passed the window legislation unanimously – March 16, 2005. Mr. Comes spoke, and senators spoke movingly, as did several current Catholic priests (including Father Mark Schmeider of Cincinnati, Father Steven Stanberry of Toledo, and Father Gary Hayes of Paducah, Kentucky), who themselves had been abused as children by clergy. Survivors filled every available seat, wearing lanyards with pictures of themselves as children. Survivors clapped and cried; it was deceptively easy to believe that the bill would sail through the House as well. That did not happen.
In the House, the opposition began in earnest. I suppose no one will ever know the actual motives of the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Willamowski (R-Lima). He had one meeting after another with the survivors, telling them he was on their side, but then he also held meetings with those in opposition, which included the Catholic Conference of Ohio and Bishop Frederick Campbell of Columbus, who promoted the dioceses’ contemporary actions, “including the removal of 25 priests from ministry in Cleveland alone; mandatory criminal background checks on new employees seeking to work with children; child-abuse awareness training for diocesan workers; and creation of independent councils to investigate abuse.” Campbell’s testimony also revealed that financial concerns, such as the loss of insurance coverage, were playing a role in the Catholic Church’s attack on the legislation.
The Ohio Catholic Conference also pushed an argument that the window was unconstitutional under the Ohio Constitution. Then Willamowski gathered everyone – pro and con – around a large conference table in the House for a series of meetings. I attended a few of the meetings to explain why the bill was constitutional. Willamowski’s theory appeared to be that there was a middle ground only he could find if he just forced the two sides to meet often enough.
SNAP pushed for a public hearing and got one on Nov. 10, 2005. One panel addressed the hierarchy’s argument that the window legislation was unconstitutional. I testified in favor of the bill while Professor Christopher Fairman, of Ohio State University School of Law and Timothy Luckhaupt, the Ohio Catholic Conference lobbyist, argued against the one-year window for three main reasons, none of which have proven to be true, though they were enough to defeat the window in Ohio:
It’s unfair. Going back 35 years means applying what we know today about pedophiles to a time when more people believed they could be treated and returned to the ministry. It’s unconstitutional. And even if some people disagree, lawmakers should wait to see what the Ohio Supreme Court does with two pending cases involving people who sued the Catholic Church after the statute of limitations ran out. It’s unnecessary. The Catholic Church has taken a number of steps to prevent future sex abuse, including sex-abuse awareness training, and many dioceses have published the names of priests found to have committed to sex abuse.
Days after the hearing on whether the window was constitutional, on Nov. 22, 2005, there was a second hearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee where approximately 115 survivors and supporters were in attendance. For almost twelve hours, with only a forty-five-minute lunch break, the committee heard testimony from forty-one individuals, out of sixty-seven who were prepared to testify. One survivor stated that he was sexually molested by this Cincinnati Catholic high school principal the day after his father died of cancer. The courageous and outspoken Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton revealed that he himself had been molested and stated his unequivocal support for a one-year window: “First of all, I am here because there is still the strong likelihood that some perpetrators have not yet been brought to account. That is why I support the one-year civil window. I do believe that the abusers need to be exposed. I also believe that this can only be assured if the possibility exists to bring these matters into a civil court of law. By doing this we will increase, as far as humanly possible, the protection from becoming victims of sexual abuse that all children have a right to.”
Survivors were hopeful. However, the night the window bill was supposed to pass on the floor of the Ohio House, the Republicans went into caucus and reappeared with a substitute bill. The window had disappeared and was replaced with the bishops’ choice, which guaranteed survivors would not be compensated. Local newspapers noted that the substitute bill had removed the “looking back” provision of a one-year window. In its place now is a worthless and probably unconstitutional civil registry of sex offenders. The substitute bill would allow an offender’s name to be placed on the registry after a judicial determination that a victim had been sexually abused, even if the offended has never been criminally charged. The offended would then have to report an address and employer. The survivor would only be able to collect legal fees. Barbara Blaine, a survivor of clergy abuse in Ohio, and president of SNAP, stated that “this registry is a shallow, empty promise that will provide no measure of protection for children or justice for survivors.” She was right of course.
Statistics on Statutes of Limitation (SOL) for Child Sex Abuse
There are two paths to justice for children who have been sexually abused: criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of child sex abuse victims cannot prosecute or file civil lawsuits because they missed the arbitrary procedural deadline—the statute of limitations (“SOLs”)—for their claims.
Most victims miss the statute of limitations because of the disclosure delay that is common among child sex abuse victims.
Statistically, 1/3 of the victims of child sex abuse discloseas children and another 1/3 never disclose. Studies show that the average age to disclose is 52, with the median age 48.
The reasons for delay are specific to each individual, but often involve disabilities that result from the trauma (e.g., depression, PTSD, substance abuse, and alcoholism). The institutional sex abuse scandals have revealed callous disregard for the welfare of children.
Short statutes of limitation block justice for the victims and simultaneously protect the perpetrators and institutions.
There are two groups of sex abuse victims to consider:
(1) the victims whose claims have expired and
(2) the children currently being abused.
Thirty-eight states including the District of Columbia, or 75%, have amended their child sex abuse statutes of limitation since January 2002. Yet, with all of the activity in the states since 2002, no state has reached the pinnacle of SOL reform, which is to simply eliminate the civil and criminal SOLs backwards and forwards.
The future of statutes of limitation
This movement has been very active across the United States since January 2002, when the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team first disclosed institution-based sex abuse in a trusted institution, the Boston Archdiocese. The movement has been mobilized by the appearance in the public square of victims of child sex abuse who were previously invisible to the public.
With 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys sexually abused, the United States is home to millions of victims, and most, even today, have not disclosed the abuse to the public. While the opposition to victims’ access to justice remains strong from certain corners, it is apparent that with the #MeToo movement and a steady stream of victims coming forward, lawmakers are likely to continue to focus on SOL reform. The pace of change, based on these child sex abuse statistics, is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.
The next frontier for CHILD USA is to study what happens when statutes of limitations are reformed and the actual effects on justice and the victims.
DONATE here to support CHILD USA's SOL Reform work
Window = a law that eliminates the civil SOL for all victims, even if the SOL has expired
Retroactive = applicable to acts that occurred before the date of enactment of the law
Civil Elimination = elimination of civil SOL; goes into effect according to the terms of the statute (can be retroactive or only prospective)
Civil Extension = extension of civil SOL by a set number of years
Criminal Elimination = elimination of SOL for crimes; starts running on the date the law goes into effect
Criminal Extension = extension of the SOL for crimes by a set number of years; starts running on the date the law goes into effect
CHARTS & MAPS
2019 SOL Reform Legislation
Post-2002 Criminal and Civil SOL Reform
CHILD USA State Rankings for Criminal and Civil SOLs
IN THE NEWS
New Jersey Extends Statute of Limitations, Allows Sex Abuse Victims Much More Time to Sue
New York’s CVA:
DUTCH GODSHALK | AUGUST 12, 2018
"Administrators of a Diocese of Buffalo program to compensate childhood victims of clergy sex abuse will consider whether the diocese had "prior notice" of an alleged abuser's conduct as they determine how much money the victims should get.But it's unclear if diocesan officials are under any obligation to hand over personnel files that show whether the diocese knew a priest was prone to abuse.That's one of the compensation program's major shortcomings, according to lawyers for some of the victims.People who make claims of abuse with the diocese aren't told what information, if any, the diocese provides to program administrators."It's a virtual black hole of a protocol," said J. Michael Reck, an attorney who represents more than 30 clients who filed claims with the Buffalo compensation program."
J. TOKASZ | AUGUST 12, 2018
A bright light needs to be shed on child sexual abuse/endangerment laws in Iowa, mainly plea deals and how they are handed out so freely.
BARBARA HOVLAND | AUGUST 10, 2018
"Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg held a press conference Wednesday to apologize for the sexual abuse of children by priests and others in the church over decades. The Harrisburg diocese also released a list of 71 clergy members and seminarians alleged to have sexually abused children since 1947. LNP reported Friday that the list included the late Monsignor Francis Joseph Taylor, who served as Lancaster Catholic High School’s principal from 1958 to 1975, and the late Rev. Thomas Ronald Haney, who was the assistant to the principal at LCHS from 1961 to 1964 and directed the school’s athletic program. According to LNP records, Haney previously had served three years as assistant pastor at St. Anne Catholic Church in Lancaster; later in his life, he was known to many local Catholics as the executive editor of The Catholic Witness, the diocesan newspaper, and as a spokesman for the diocese."
B. SHAHAN | AUGUST 5, 2018