Queens Assemblymember Margaret M. Markey last week called on the state legislature to extend the age by which victims of childhood sexual abuse could file criminal complaints.
“Many victims of these horrific crimes have never received their day in court. They were shut off from justice because of the statute of limitation provisions in our law,” said Markey speaking at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law on September 25.
Under current law, the five-year criminal statute of limitations for unreported child sex-abuse cases in New York is triggered when a victim reaches 18. Markey’s bill, currently in the Assembly, would extend the trigger age to 23, giving childhood victims until at least age 28 to file a criminal suit.
The bill would also provide a one-time, one-year window for victims of any age to seek civil damages for abuse that occurred when they were children. The bill passed the Assembly in 2005 and again, after revisions, in 2006 and 2007, however, its companion bill, co-sponsored by Senator Stephen M. Saland, of Poughkeepsie, has stalled in the senate.
Adult victims of childhood sexual abuse spoke about the need to pass the legislation at the Cardozo press conference.
Tony Lembo, 46, a native of Connecticut, said that a Catholic priest took him into the South Bronx in 1976 and sexually abused him. Lembo was part of a multimillion dollar, 43-person settlement with the Hartford Archdiocese in 2005.
“I’m afraid more children will be taken over the border into New York where the statute is not as severe,” said Lembo, who now lives in New Hampshire.
Vicki Polin, 48, who grew up in Illinois, said her parents sexually abused her throughout her childhood and teenage years. By the time that Polin decided to file a civil suit against them, the statute of limitations had expired in Illinois, she said, adding that many victims do not report their abuse until they are in their 30’s or 40’s, or in some cases even older.
Markey’s bill is modeled after a California law passed in 2003, and similar legislation was enacted this year in Delaware. Bills to extend the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases are currently being considered in Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
However, the current wave of legislation is not without opponents.
Most of the resistance to Markey’s bill has come from the New York State Catholic Conference. The public policy group claims the legislation unfairly targets the Catholic Church, which is embroiled in a nationwide clergy abuse scandal.
Dennis Poust, spokesperson for the Catholic Conference, said the bill is discriminatory because it targets private institutions while exempting state and municipal entities, like public schools. Therefore, it would not give someone who was abused by a public school teacher the same legal recourse as someone who was abused by a priest, he said.
“It’s an attempt to bankrupt the church, and we think it is anti-Catholic at its face,” said Poust.
Markey believes the Catholic Conference has influenced some members of the Republican-controlled senate, but she said she would continue to press senate members on the legislation in the coming months, meeting with them individually to ask for their support of the bill.
The next legislative session begins in January 2008.