The University at Buffalo Law School on Monday hosted a look at the Child Victims Act, the new state law that has reopened New York's history of sexual abuse for a one-year window. The law allows victims to go to court against abusers, even if the abuse occurred decades ago.
For months, the CVA has been an issue in the state's legal system. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed, mostly against the Catholic Church around the state, although more are now being filed against public schools.
A bankruptcy, for example, of a Catholic diocese, might mean there will be no chance for a victim to testify or internal church records on priests to become public. State Assemblymember Monica Wallace said she has legislation to make sure it never happens again.
"I have a piece of legislation that's called the CARE Act, Child Abuse Reporting Expansion Act, which is intended to make clergy from all denominations mandatory reporters, because we need to recognize that they weren't mandatory reporters is part of the reason that this abuse was allowed to proliferate for so many years," Wallace said. "So what we want to do is make sure that we look prospectively and make sure that nothing like this happens again."
The panel in O'Brian Hall included state legislators, law teachers, victim advocates and a sexual abuse victim whose eventual testimony drove her abuser out of an Olympic sport. Bridie Farrell said her abuser was a speed skater known around the world. It started when she was 15 and Andy Gabel was 33.
"I walked into the rink in Milwaukee, the National Ice Center, and there's banners, you know, like anywhere, any arena, and on the banners are the Olympians and the Olympics medalists," Farrel said. "Well, four of the banners say Andy Gabel, four-time Olympian, Olympic silver medalist and then president of USA Speed Skating. He was in the Hall of Fame and also the person that molested me hundreds of times."
Once Farrell told a reporter what happened, Gabel admitted it the next day. Farrell now runs the activist group New York Loves Kids, fighting abuse.
Karen Lillie was in the audience, a first-year law student watching a discussion of how a law dealt with a social problem.
"I think it's important for victims to be able to have a voice, without it being a statute of limitations issue," Lillie said. "I do wonder if this is going to potentially open the door to harm for some that maybe shouldn't have any harm coming against them, but I don't know and that's why I'm here - it's to hear more about it and what this act is about and what avenues it might go down."
Law School professor Christine Bartholomew said a major problem has been a legal system that "privileged" clergy, keeping information quiet for the benefit of abusers.
"They'll argue that far more information should be privileged. They'll argue that employment records should be privileged or other types of, even checks written for settlements," Bartholomew said. "And so until there's some recognition that the privileges are actually potentially being misused to shield these cases, it makes it a lot harder to argue that privilege needs to continue to apply in these cases."
Dorothy Shuldman was a Bartholomew law student in the audience.
"I think there's been a lot going on in Buffalo and nationally - not just with priests, but nuns, as well - so I'm just interested in learning more about this, especially as it pertains to the law," Shuldman said.
Law student Frank is from Colombia and was in the audience because sex abuse is a problem back home.
"There's people that actually are trying to fix the problem because we've got this situation of violation of children," he said.
He said there are a lot of abandoned children in Colombia and they are often victims of abuse.