Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in New York State:
Two Competing Visions.
One Clear Answer.
Two competing visions have emerged in the state Legislature to deal with the difficult issue of sexual abuse victims and their legal rights. One approach -- advanced by Assemblywoman Marge Markey and Sen. Tom Duane -- focuses principally on the past. The other approach -- advanced by Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Sen. Carl Kruger -- focuses entirely on the future.
The bill (A2596 and S2568) sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, D-Queens, and Sen. Tom Duane, D-Manhattan:
- Principally looks back, not ahead.
- Promotes litigation – it resuscitates claims 50, 60, 70 years old, lawsuits now deemed to old to be brought to court, lawsuits that it would be virtually impossible for any organization to defend.
- Does nothing to protect children now.
- Arguably helps some, but nowhere near all, victims of sexual abuse -- and, in fact, discriminates against victims based on the meaningless distinction of where their alleged abuser was employed.
- Overturns a fundamental principle of American law – the statute of limitations – that was created to prevent fraud and encourage timely and fair resolution of claims. Reviving criminal claims that are beyond the statute of limitations is prohibited by the Constitution of the United States. The same protection is appropriate for civil claims.
- Selectively targets private institutions, most notably the Catholic Church.
- Exempts public institutions, notably New York’s public schools, where far greater numbers of sexual abuse claims have been reported.
- Runs the risk of inflicting catastrophic harm to the Catholic Church in New York, the largest non-government provider of health care, education and human services -- schools, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, health clinics -- in the state, at a time when government funding for these services is being sharply reduced.
- Is supported by the powerful New York trial lawyers’ lobby.
- Is opposed by the New York State Catholic Conference, New York Civil Liberties Union, Legal Aid, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Brooklyn Defenders.
The bill (A5708 and S3107) sponsored by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Queens, and Sen. Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn:
- Looks forward and protects children now.
- Focuses on prevention.
- Treats all victims equally – does not create two, unequal classes of victims.
- Does not disenfranchise those abused in public schools, hospitals or agencies
- Does not selectively target any institution and places no special burdens on any organizations, religious or otherwise.
- Does not overturn a fundamental legal principle (statute of limitations) that is respected by legislatures and courts across the country.
- Is supported by the New York Catholic Conference.
Surely, with respect to creating new law, legislators’ best efforts should be directed toward ensuring equal treatment and protection under the law. It is clear, then, that the better choice is the Lopez-Kruger measure: It protects children now and in the future, extends rather than waiving the civil and criminal statutes of limitation; applies evenly to all institutions, including schools, hospitals and other public institutions as well as churches, nonprofits and businesses; and is fair to the alleged victims and potential plaintiffs, balancing the issues of justice with the goals of the justice system.