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On June 26, 2014 Govenor Deval Patrick signed into law a bill extending the civil statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse to age 53
Left to right: Sen. John Keenan, Sen. Michael Barrett, Majority Leader Ronald Mariano, Rep. John Lawn, Sen William Brownsberger, Rep. Tom Stanley, Sen. Joan Lovely, Front: Gov. Deval Patrick
|Survivors and Advocates posing with Govenor Deval Patrick following the signing
Achieving Victory by Engaging with, Rather than Ignoring, the Church
Massachusetts bishops endorse statute of limitations extension
Cardinal Sean O'Malley (CNS/The Pilot/Gregory L. Tracy)
Jun. 27, 2014
Originally reported by the National Catholic Reporter:
Massachusetts' Catholic bishops have endorsed a bill that would extend by 32 years the statute of limitations for filing civil suits against alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse of minors.
The bill, approved by the state's House of Representatives June 18 and passed by the Senate with unanimous support June 19, would give child victims of sexual abuse until age 53 to sue their alleged abusers.
The bill would also allow lawsuits against abuser's supervisors and the institution that they worked or volunteered for from the point the bill is signed and forward, but not retroactively. Churches, schools, youth centers and sports organizations would be among the institutions that could be sued under this new law.
The bill still has a few procedural votes to pass, but lawmakers expect it to be sent to Gov. Deval Patrick for signing soon.
Once the bill is signed into law, thousands of cases will open for those who were previously barred at 21 to file suit against their alleged attackers.
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference released a statement to NCR June 20 supporting the legislation and affirming the bishops' commitment to helping the victims and families of child sexual abuse survivors.
"We, the Bishops of the four Dioceses of Massachusetts recognize the suffering of survivors who have experienced sexual abuse and remain committed to assuring the safety of children entrusted to our care," the statement said.
"Our support for this legislation is consistent with our continued and steadfast commitment to provide those services for as long as they are needed by the victims and their families," it said.
According to Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, a child welfare advocacy group, the bill is the result of difficult negotiations with the Catholic conference.
"As in any negotiation process, one never gets all that they want," Bernier told NCR in an interview June 20.
"Negotiators were faced with an all-or-nothing choice and so chose to do what was currently possible for the greatest numbers of survivors," she said in a statement posted to the organization's website June 19.
A bill extending the statute of limitations in the state legislature in 2012 met heavy church resistance and failed.
Bernier told NCR that last November at a meeting of the bill's advocates, they realized that support from the Catholic church was essential if the bill was going to become law this year.
Bernier's group took advantage of the Vatican's announcement in December that Pope Francis had appointed Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley to head a special commission to advise him on sex abuse.
Massachusetts Citizens for Children appealed to O'Malley in an open letter to "unite over the fundamental moral values we all share. Surely, you will agree that these include: the right of every child to grow up free from sexual abuse; the duty of every person to protect children from this crime; the right of victims to seek justice under the law for the offenses committed against them; and the need to hold abusers accountable for their actions so that more children will not be abused."
Bernier said O'Malley did not respond to the letter, but after The Boston Globe's article about the letter obtained significant attention and response, state Sen. William Brownsberger reached out to O'Malley personally. Soon after, members of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference met multiple times with advocates, survivors and legislators.
"We would have preferred for survivors today who were time barred from filing civil charges in the past to have had the ability to not only file civil charges against their individual abuser, but also against any employer or institution and any supervisor in that organization that was responsible in their part either through their action or inaction for their abuse," Bernier said.
The latter piece was a sticking point for the church and was dropped so that the church would support the rest of the bill, she said.
"We succeeded in collaborating with those who were not necessarily supportive of our efforts in the past," said Bernier. "So for us, it's a great day."
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told The Boston Globe that the bill is a "very big step forward" but is disappointed that institutions are still shielded from some claims.
Clohessy said his group is "saddened but not surprised that Catholic officials lobbied so hard to continue evading responsibility for child-molesting clerics."
Governor Patrick Signs Statute of Limitations Law
Survivors Moving Forward to File Civil Actions
June 26, 2014, BOSTON, MA – Today Governor Deval Patrick officially signed into law a bill that will finally provide civil relief for victims of child sexual abuse who were previously time-barred under the old law from filing charges against their alleged abusers. After several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations among legislators, legal experts, child advocates and the MA Catholic Archdioceses, the bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate late last week. The bill, which included an emergency provision, immediately went into effect this afternoon upon the Governor's signing. Given the favorable support by the legislature last week, however, many survivors already began to explore their new legal options.
The law now provides the opportunity for anyone up to the age of 53 to file civil charges against their alleged abuser and/or against an institution and/or supervisor. Previously a victim only had up to 3 years past their 18th birthday to file civil charges or until 3 years after they came to understand the harm caused by the abuse. Under the new law, that limited "discovery period" is extended to 7 years. The new law, however, is not retroactive for institutions and their supervisors. This means that survivors who believe their past abuse was due to the actions or inactions of an organization and/or a supervisor of that organization, may not file civil charges if they were time-barred under the old law. Only abuse by institutions and supervisors that occurs after the new law goes into effect would be subject to the age 53 provision.
"We are fully aware of the bill's limitations regarding survivors age 53 or older, as well as the inability of some to file civil charges against institutions which may have been complicit in allowing child sexual abuse to occur under their watch,", said Jetta Bernier, director of MassKids, a child advocacy organization that has been involved in the SOL reform fight for several years. "Negotiators were faced with an all-or-nothing choice and so chose to do what was currently possible for the greatest numbers of survivors. We could no longer tolerate how the previous law protected abusers and disregarded the rights of survivors and the right of children to be protected from becoming future victims," she said. The group is committed to fight for additional reforms and prevention policies in the next legislative session.
Rosanne Sliney, a survivor of child sexual abuse, who was time-barred under the old law from suing the uncle who abused her from age 5 to 14, expressed the sentiment of many abuse victims. "With this long overdue move, we have finally succeeded in wresting power away from abusers who were largely protected under the old law. That power now resides with victims who can finally seek justice in the courts in order to heal and to shield more children from sexual abuse."
Marci Hamilton, constitutional law scholar and the nation's foremost legal expert on Statute of Limitations stated: "This law is a good development for Massachusetts survivors. The retroactive age extension to age 53 is innovative and worthy of other states' attention." However, she raised concerns that the law would still shield the four Massachusetts Dioceses of Boston, Fall River, Springfield and Worcester from potential new suits brought against them by some victims of clergy sexual abuse. "The failure to include institutions under the retroactive provision shows that Catholic bishops' continue to exert their power in an effort to avoid justice. Still, the retroactive extension of the discovery rule to 7 years beyond discovery for all defendants is an improvement over existing law."
Bills to reform civil and criminal SOLs were introduced in numerous states in 2014, including California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. MassKids and other advocates succeeded in 2009 in extending the state's criminal SOL. Before then a victim had only up to 15 years past their 16th birthday or by age 31 to file criminal charges against their abuser. Now they have until age 43.
MA- Lawmakers pass child sex abuse reform bill
A bill to reform Massachusetts archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations on child sex crimes has passed the State Senate today. (It passed the House earlier.)
We are grateful to the many determined victims and advocates who have made this progress possible. While this measure is far from perfect, we're encouraged by it. Any legislation that gives more child sex abuse victims more chances to expose more predators in court is positive. We are grateful as well for the hard work by Rep. John Lawn and Senator William Brownsberger on this crucial bill.
At the same time, however, we hope Massachusetts lawmakers will do more to enable victims to also expose those who conceal child sex crimes. That would give employers more incentive to act promptly, transparently and responsibly when abuse reports arise and to take stronger steps to prevent abuse and cover up in the future.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 25 years and have more than 18,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org
Bill extends time limit on sexual abuse lawsuits
Would let alleged child victims file until age 53
By Travis Andersen, Derek J. Anderson and Jennifer Smith
JUNE 20, 2014
The Massachusetts Legislature is on the verge of finalizing a bill that will give alleged child sexual abuse victims an additional 32 years to file civil lawsuits, a move one specialist said will open the door to thousands of new cases.
The bill would extend the statute of limitations for filing suits against alleged perpetrators and, in future cases, the people or institution supervising them. Under the legislation, the victims would be able to file suits up to age 53, instead of the current limit of age 21.
The Senate passed the measure Thursday, after it was approved by the House Wednesday.
Lawmakers expect to send a bill to Governor Deval Patrick's desk soon, after a few more procedural votes, said Senator William N. Brownsberger, the Senate cochairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
"We're very glad we were able to get this done," said Brownsberger. "It is going to protect children in the future. It really is."
Carmen L. Durso, a lawyer for sexual abuse victims and a vocal supporter of the bill, also hailed its passage. "It will open the doors of the courthouse to thousands, literally thousands of people who have otherwise been excluded from being able to file suits," Durso said by phone. "This will give them the opportunity to name their perpetrators and do what almost all of them want to do, which is make sure their perpetrators can't get to other victims."
Rosanne Sliney, 50, of Burlington, whose suit against her uncle was dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds, said the legislation gives her hope she may get justice.
"My lawyer can contact the judge, say that these are new laws, we need to move forward to trial," she said. "It will definitely give me a chance at justice and a fair fight against someone who destroyed me in my life."
The landmark bill contains some important distinctions. In cases involving past abuse, for example, the provision extending the statute of limitations from age 21 to 53 would allow alleged victims to sue only the perpetrators, but not the alleged abuser's supervisors and the institution that they worked or volunteered for.
The institutions would, however, be subject to the new rule and could be sued in cases of abuse that occur after the law passes. Institutions potentially exposed to lawsuits include churches, schools, youth centers, and other organizations.
In cases of repressed memory, the bill would give adults seven years to file claims against alleged perpetrators and their supervisors once they realize they were abused as children, an increase from the current three-year threshold.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the bill a "very big step forward" but expressed disappointment with the provision that shields institutions from some retroactive claims.
Clohessy said his group is "saddened but not surprised that Catholic officials lobbied so hard to continue evading responsibility for child-molesting clerics."
The Catholic Church, in particular, has been rocked by a sexual abuse crisis that exploded in Boston in 2002 and has led to dioceses in Massachusetts and elsewhere paying hundreds of millions of dollars in civil claims, straining budgets and forcing school and parish closings.
Asked to comment on the legislation, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston released a statement from the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which represents the state's four Catholic bishops, that said the group supports the legislation.
"We, the bishops of the four dioceses of Massachusetts, recognize the suffering of survivors who have experienced sexual abuse and remain committed to assuring the safety of children entrusted to our care," the statement said.
"For well over a decade, we have been utilizing comprehensive pastoral outreach programs for survivors and their families, have been vigilant in reporting claims, have worked closely with law enforcement, and continue to be dedicated to resolving cases in a just and responsible manner."
The Catholic Conference added that the church has taken a number of steps to address the crisis, including background screening for tens of thousands of employees and volunteers, as well as the immediate removal of any cleric or other person credibly accused of abuse.
Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for sexual abuse victims who is best known for filing a number of lawsuits against the Catholic Church, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
BishopAccountability.org, an advocacy group for victims, echoed the sentiments of other advocates who wanted a stronger bill, even while praising the version that was passed.
In a statement, the group said: "The bill is far from perfect. It keeps the courthouse doors slammed shut to most of the thousands of child sexual abuse victims now age 53 or older. And it will do almost nothing to expose and hold accountable those supervisors and employers who already have been negligent, careless, or deceptive in managing offenders."
But Durso, the lawyer for abuse victims, said that a compromise was better than nothing.
"The perfect bill would be no statute of limitations at all," he said. "And sometimes you can't let the perfect get in the way of the good and the useful."
Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, a group that pushed for the changes, agreed with Durso's assessment.
"We are fully aware that this is not the perfect bill, but we could not let the status quo continue," she said.
Senate and House leaders released statements of support for the measure.
"The changes in this bill are essential for protecting the victims of sexual abuse and holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions," Senate President Therese Murray said.
"I'm proud to join my colleagues in passing this bill that protects victims of sexual violence and better holds institutions accountable," House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said.
Patrick's office declined to comment.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen @globe.com.