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Why NY State laws on sexual abuse need to change

posted by HM Action at 2015-04-30 09:12:00

Why NY State laws on sexual abuse need to change

There are 3 significant reasons to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual abuse:

1) The psychological shame that prevents victims of sexual abuse from reporting, sometimes for decades,

2) The perverse incentive in the law that rewards institutions when they discourage, silence and cover-up reports of abuse, and

3) The system being unable to pursue abusers teaching right now -- unnamed, uninvestigated but known. The provision for the retroactive window protects students. The CVA works to remove these barriers:

-- Justice requires we recognize the pain victims struggle with that prevents reporting:

  • Shame prevents victims of sexual abuse from reporting.

  • Blaming oneself is a typical response and it too prevents reporting.

  • Feelings of self-degradation and unworthiness, confusion, loss of self-respect and dignity -- all these also prevent reporting.

  • The relationship with the abuser -- like spousal abuse -- prevents victims from reporting.

  • Being privately and secretly sexually abused by an authority figure is not like having your hat stolen in the street.

Many victims may choose to live with their pain hoping to forget the experience in time. From reading accounts of Horace Mann victims from their own hand, I've learned that when they finally, after decades, choose to report, it is not because the memories have suddenly erupted like a recovered memory. They report because the memory has never left them. It visits their sleep in nightmares; they remember it every morning when they wake; it haunts them every day; when they know that the unbearable will not be relieved, they have nothing more to lose than to speak out the truth.

-- Justice requires we remove the perverse incentive the current SOL provides to schools to silence reporting... at the very time it would be most effective:

We now know that many victims did report abuse to the administration from the late 1960's through the 90's only to be turned away and ignored. The SOL for schools is only 3 years. When a sophomore reports abuse and the school stalls them, by graduation the school is no longer accountable.

So even those victims with the self-assurance and confidence and tough courage to report were only to be dismissed by the institution and discouraged in their pursuit of justice. No law can strictly prevent institutions from hiding timely reports, but it CAN remove an incentive. Since a cover-up may last decades, the statue of limitations facilitates institutional cover-up.

The current SOL prevents the arm of the law from extending beyond the walls of institutions like Horace Mann that conceal and cover up sexual abuse and discourages victims from reporting enduringly hurtful crimes. Neither the abusers nor their protector and facilitator institutions should be allowed to hide behind a statute that serves harmful, dangerous people and unjust institutions.

-- Justice requires we address abusers still teaching, hidden in the backlog of cases.

Beyond the removal of the SOL, the retroactive window is essential so that abusers now teaching can be identified. As it is now, the DA or police cannot fully investigate accounts out of statute. As a result, abusers remain unchecked and unknown to the public. Children remain at risk.

The DA is better able to investigate crimes than a school principal, but when the SOL prevents charges, the process ends. In NY, once an abuser's crimes are 5 years old, he can teach your child without you even knowing -- without accountability. Making civil action available would at least uncover risks hiding close by. Victims should not bear the burden alone to speak out. Our schools and institutions must be accountable to report abuse when it occurs. And speak about it openly.

In sum, victim shame, school cover-up, disabled authorities - all three are enlisted by institutions as they game the system to buy silence for reputation over safety. The price is paid by further victims.

Finally, I have learned some lessons over the last 3 years about independent schools:

  • Your child's teacher is obligated to report YOU but not an abuser teaching next door, in independent schools. We need to fix mandated reporting. And the Bronx DA agrees.

  • Private schools in NY State rarely alert authorities when they get reports of abuse. Abusers love that.

  • The policies schools write are to show parents. All bets are off when a real event happens.

  • Schools aren't accountable for keeping records. Once a school covers up an incident with an abuser, every next incident is preventable and inexcusable.

  • If your child reported abuse to the principal, you'd expect an immediate call. Not at Horace Mann.

We know more about the sanitation of the restaurant down the street than about the risk our children face in the schools we trust to take care of them every day.

With any abuse event, knowing how and why is essential to prevention. Despite 4 decades of abuse, HM refuses to investigate or cooperate to learn the truth. We expect our schools to be accountable.

You can learn more in our report of the investigation by concerned alumni, online soon.

Read what we found. Assess your school. And find out what your school is doing.


CVA Lobby Day, April 22nd, 2015 Horace Mann Action Coalition Peter Brooks

posted at: 2015-04-30 09:12:00, last updated: 2015-04-30 11:29:29

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