Erie County District Attorney John Flynn and State Senator Tim Kennedy say they are outraged over a recent report detailing past cases of teacher-student relationships at Nichols School. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Kennedy and Flynn are calling for immediate changes to two state laws that would protect children.
“There are administrations holding information from authorities because they legally can. It is wrong and that bill needs to be fast-tracked, as well,” said Kennedy, at a news conference Wednesday.
Kennedy and Flynn spoke passionately about a legal loophole in the state's law. Private schools are not required to report sexual abuse cases the way public schools are.
But with an investigation revealing that over several decades, ten Nichols teachers engaged in improper relationships with students, of which some past administrators were aware, Kennedy and Flynn are demanding immediate changes to the law.
“That’s all I’m concerned about, protecting our children, and whether you are a private school teacher or a public school teacher, in order to protect our children, you have to report,” said Flynn.
“We have to use this horrific situation as an opportunity to bring forward legislation that will once and for all allow these predators to be prosecuted,” Kennedy stated. “Allow these predators to be prosecuted by our district attorneys and at the same time, allow these child victims to hold their abusers accountable in the court of law."
Kennedy and Flynn also calling for passage of the Child Victims Act (CVA) to change the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse to be extended.
The CVA would do the following:
· Increase the criminal statute of limitations prospectively from the age of 23 to age 28;
· Increase the civil statute of limitations prospectively from the age of 23 to age 50;
· Remove special protections for public institutions that have acted as a shield against liability; and
· Create a one-year look-back window to allow survivors over the age of 23 to seek retrospective civil relief.
WBFO News met with Tom Travers of Buffalo. He is a public speaker sharing his past experiences of sexual abuse. Travers said he was sexual abused more than 40-years ago by a Catholic priest.
"When I was young – I did speak up. I went to a nun and my mother and I was simply told that a priest would never do such a thing and that was it,” said Travers.
Travers tells WBFO News the loophole prevents private schools from protecting children.
“People around those abusers protect those abusers because of the fallout that may or may not happen. My first thought was – it’s exactly how it happened to me and it’s exactly how it’s happening in schools and in institutions every single day,” Travers remarked. “What I don’t understand is people that no better do not speak up, do not protect children. I find that to be one of the biggest issues right now that we as a society struggle with talking about sexuality – let alone sexual abuse and children are surrounded by adults who are there to protect them."
The Child Victims Act has remained stalled in the state Senate for years. Kennedy blames republicans for failing to protect children.
"It is the senate republicans, that control the majority, that have failed to bring the Child Victims Act to the floor for even a vote,” Kennedy explained
Kennedy was asked if he believes the Governor might use this as a possible tool in budget negotiations.
"Absolutely – we’ve called on the Governor to include this in his budget and we are hopeful that he does. The goal is to get this past any way we can,” Kennedy replied.
Meanwhile, Flynn said if any more recent cases of abuse surface at Nichols, he will investigate.
"If more individuals now come forward and bring to me an allegation or a complaint, I assure you it will be investigated immediately.