1. What is the problem?
Sexual abuse is a pervasive social problem, and a major public health issue in
- Sex offenders lack empathy for their victims, or concern for their emotional well-being. They use highly manipulative grooming techniques, emphasizing the secret aspects of the conduct.
- Victims feel guilt and shame, and while they may be aware that “something” is wrong, the perpetrator tells them the molestation or rape is right, or threatens repercussions against them or their families, causing confusion and preventing them from speaking out.
- Societal or family influences are often considerations for both the child and the adults to whom a child might disclose the abuse.
2. Where does it happen?
Abuse occurs in homes, communities, and institutional settings. Home abuse is committed by relatives and other household members. Institutional abuse happens at the hands of trusted care-givers: clergy, doctors, teachers, coaches. While more children are abused in homes, the institutional abuser has more victims because he has better access and more opportunities.
3. Why is this important?
Sexually abused children suffer from the effects of abuse for the rest of their lives. An American Medical Association study says 50% of kids, drinking by age 14, will be life-long alcoholics. Substance abuse is common among victims because abusers use alcohol as a means to their end. Others self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Victims frequently don’t complete education, have sporadic employment, can’t manage personal relationships, and have criminal justice issues. Besides damage to their lives, the abuse has enormous societal and economic costs.
4. Why does abuse continue?
Children are powerless to stop the abuse. Institutions are more interested in self-preservation than protecting children. Criminal prosecutions are prevented by restrictive statutes of limitations. Civil suits are likewise difficult, and because institutions are protected by charitable immunity.
5.What can be done to stop abuse?
Three achievable goals can change the sexual abuse dynamic: prevention through education, consistent criminal prosecution, and civil actions to make institutions responsive, and hold them accountable for their actions and damage to children.
A. Education: Due to confusion and shame, most children and adults do not report childhood sexual abuse when itWe must educate responsible adults to recognize and report signs of abuse. In institutions, we must create incentives for education, and enact serious penalties for non-reporting of abuse. This is the only way to ensure that children will have someone to tell when a predator tries to abuse them.
B. Prosecution: We must use the criminal justice system to identify perpetrators, punish them appropriately, and brand them for life as dangerousTo do this, we must eliminate all criminal statutes of limitation for all sex crimes so that children, who cannot speak of this until they are adults, will obtain justice, no matter how long it takes.
C. Institutional Accountability: Recent history teaches that institutions are more responsive to financial incentives than appeals to moralAll legal barriers to civil suits against organizations within which perpetrators operate must be removed. No statutes of limitations, and no charitable immunity defense, should ever stand in the way of obtaining the truth.
6. Is this possible?
Absolutely. For example, Massachusetts Citizens for Children is lead agency for the Enough Abuse Campaign, a comprehensive community mobilization and citizen education effort that teaches parents, youth, professionals and other concerned adults about child sexual abuse and how to take action to prevent it. The program is operating in several communities across the state with a goal of engaging every
7. Are changes happening elsewhere?
Yes. States large and small, urban and rural, have embraced sexual abuse legal reforms.
- 31 states have no statutes of limitations for some or all sex crimes.
- Four states have eliminated civil statutes of limitations entirely.
- The Florida State Legislature voted, unanimously, in both branches, to eliminate statutes of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil suits relating to childhood sexual abuse.
- The State of
has eliminated statutes of limitations, both civil and criminal, by legislative actions, and its Maine Supreme Judicial Courthas held charitable immunity inapplicable when an institution hides information about sexual abuse.
- 26 states have civil statutes of limitations which recognize delayed discovery of childhood sexual abuse claims and 3 additional states do so by court decision.
- 41 states have extended statutes of limitations when child sexual abuse is involved.
- Only 3 states still allow the charitable immunity defense.
California& passed “window” laws to provide justice to past childhood victims. Delaware
- Efforts are currently on-going in several other states to achieve similar results.
8. What if we do nothing?
In 2006, Anthony Laurano, a defrocked priest, was prosecuted in
9. Why now?
Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come. With the current situation at
The Legislature must insure that
child sexual abuse legislation?
- Eliminating all statutes of limitations will reduce the number of sexual offenders at large in
. Eliminating all statutes of limitations on sexual crimes against children is a simple but powerful legislativeIt opens the courthouse doors and lets victims expose perpetrators through peaceful, legal means. Massachusetts
- Yesterday’s predator is today’sPsychological studies have shown that there is no “statute of limitations” for molester’s attraction to children. Molesters usually continue victimizing children until they are caught and imprisoned or they die.
- Statutes of limitations protect pedophiles.
- There is no “statute of limitations” on the suffering of victims—for many, the pain is pervasive and on-going, ever after years of therapy.
- Survey: People sexually assaulted as children took more than 30 years to tell.
- Other states have already taken the steps we propose.
- The current statutes in
protect predators, not children. Massachusetts
- If the statutes are eliminated, only substantial charges will be prosecuted.
- If the statutes are eliminated, sexual offenders will get the treatment they need.
- When history books are written . . . New sexual abuse victims are coming forward every day. In five or ten years from now, when the next major crisis of child sexual abuse may be exposed in yet another institution in Massachusetts, state lawmakers should be able to look themselves in the mirror and realize that, in 2012, their wisdom and courage made it possible for victims to get their day in court and for molesters to be stopped.