A proposed law that would give childhood sex abuse victims more time to seek justice has, according to State Senator Tim Kennedy, stalled in Albany for the past 11 years. Speaking in Buffalo Friday morning, Kennedy, child advocates and a childhood sex abuse victim gathered to say it's time the legislature and the governor takes action and passes the Child Victims Act.
Under current state law, victims of such abuse may only take legal action until the age of 23. Kennedy said many victims do not even begin to comprehend or address their past abuse until well into their adult years.
"Research has shown that it takes almost 21 years in many cases for these abuse victims to realize they were victims in the first place, before they can even talk about this abuse, before they even go for crisis counseling," Kennedy said.
Tom Travers was nine years old when, 40 years ago, he was sexually abused by someone he identified only as a leader in the local religious community. He explained that he did attempt to come forward but it became a case of his word against his abuser's word and the latter, given his standing in the community, was never brought to justice.
Sexual abuse of children, it was discussed Friday, has left victims in numerous sectors including religious institutions, sports teams, scout troops, youth groups and other organizations where adults may come into direct contact with children.
"We have a huge responsibility to begin speaking up, to begin protecting children, putting the tools in place that hold perpetrators accountable," Travers said. "Putting the tools in place that help us understand when a child is traumatized and begin the process of healing."
Advocates supporting Senator Kennedy's push to pass the Child Victims Act include Crisis Services, the Child Advocacy Center and the Stop the Abuse Campaign. Leaders within those groups say there is a shift happening, seen in recent months by the emergence of women and some men who have come forward to reveal their stories of abuse and harassment by people in positions of power.
Abusers of children have been allowed to continue their offenses because, as one of those leaders stated, the current law makes it difficult for childhood victims to come forward when they are adults ready to address their past.
"What we're not talking about is most of them are doing this because they have no possibility of achieving justice in the court of law, because of statues of limitations," said Melanie Blow, chief operating officer of the Stop the Abuse Campaign. "New York's are among the worst. We should all be ashamed of that. It is horrifying. This is not a state where we can talk about valuing children if we deny most sex abuse survivors justice."
According to the Stop the Abuse Campaign, an estimated 43,000 children in New York State are sexually abused every year yet only one out of every ten violators ever see criminal justice.