Why Eliminating the SOL is Important

1. What is the problem?

Sexual abuse is a pervasive social problem, and a major public health issue in America today according to the U.S. Justice Department and the Centers for Disease Control.  Their studies state that 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys, may experience sexual abuse by their 18th birthday.  An estimated 90% of child sexual abuse goes unreported. Lack of reporting is attributed to numerous factors: 

    • Sex offenders lack empathy for their victims, or concern for their emotional well-being.  They use highly manipulative grooming techniques, emphasizing the secret aspects of the conduct.
    • Victims feel guilt and shame, and while they may be aware that “something” is wrong, the perpetrator tells them the molestation or rape is right, or threatens repercussions against them or their families, causing confusion and preventing them from speaking out.
    • Societal or family influences are often considerations for both the child and the adults to whom a child might disclose the abuse. 

2. Where does it happen?

Abuse occurs in homes, communities, and institutional settings.  Home abuse is committed by relatives and other household members.  Institutional abuse happens at the hands of trusted care-givers: clergy, doctors, teachers, coaches.  While more children are abused in homes, the institutional abuser has more victims because he has better access and more opportunities.

3. Why is this important?

Sexually abused children suffer from the effects of abuse for the rest of their lives.  An American Medical Association study says 50% of kids, drinking by age 14, will be life-long alcoholics.  Substance abuse is common among victims because abusers use alcohol as a means to their end. Others self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.  Victims frequently don’t complete education, have sporadic employment, can’t manage personal relationships, and have criminal justice issues.  Besides damage to their lives, the abuse has enormous societal and economic costs.

4. Why does abuse continue?

Children are powerless to stop the abuse.  Institutions are more interested in self-preservation than protecting children.  Criminal prosecutions are prevented by restrictive statutes of limitations.  Civil suits are likewise difficult, and because institutions are protected by charitable immunity.

5. What can be done to stop abuse?

Three achievable goals can change the sexual abuse dynamic: prevention through education, consistent criminal prosecution, and civil actions to make institutions responsive, and hold them accountable for their actions and damage to children.

A. Education: Due to confusion and shame, most children and adults do not report childhood sexual abuse when itWe must educate responsible adults to recognize and report signs of abuse.  In institutions, we must create incentives for education, and enact serious penalties for non-reporting of abuse.  This is the only way to ensure that children will have someone to tell when a predator tries to abuse them.

B. Prosecution: We must use the criminal justice system to identify perpetrators, punish them appropriately, and brand them for life as dangerousTo do this, we must eliminate all criminal statutes of limitation for all sex crimes so that children, who cannot speak of this until they are adults, will obtain justice, no matter how long it takes.

C. Institutional Accountability: Recent history teaches that institutions are more responsive to financial incentives than appeals to moralAll legal barriers to civil suits against organizations within which perpetrators operate must be removed.  No statutes of limitations, and no charitable immunity defense, should ever stand in the way of obtaining the truth.

6. Is this possible?

Absolutely. For example, Massachusetts Citizens for Children is lead agency for the Enough Abuse Campaign, a comprehensive community mobilization and citizen education effort that teaches parents, youth, professionals and other concerned adults about child sexual abuse and how to take action to prevent it. The program is operating in several communities across the state with a goal of engaging every Massachusetts city and town by 2015. (www.corsalorbuse.org) The Enough Abuse Campaign has already been adopted and established in New Jersey and Maryland and interest is keen in other states.

7. Are changes happening elsewhere?

Yes. States large and small, urban and rural, have embraced sexual abuse legal reforms.  Massachusetts, usually a leader in adopting progressive child protection measures, can and should follow in their footsteps.

    • 31 states have no statutes of limitations for some or all sex crimes.
    • Four states have eliminated civil statutes of limitations entirely.
    • The Florida State Legislature voted, unanimously, in both branches, to eliminate statutes of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil suits relating to childhood sexual abuse.
    • The State of Maine has eliminated statutes of limitations, both civil and criminal, by legislative actions, and its Supreme Judicial Court has held charitable immunity inapplicable when an institution hides information about sexual abuse.
    • 26 states have civil statutes of limitations which recognize delayed discovery of childhood sexual abuse claims and 3 additional states do so by court decision.
    • 41 states have extended statutes of limitations when child sexual abuse is involved.
    • Only 3 states still allow the charitable immunity defense.
    • California & Delaware passed “window” laws to provide justice to past childhood victims.
    • Efforts are currently on-going in several other states to achieve similar results.

8. What if we do nothing?

In 2006, Anthony Laurano, a defrocked priest, was prosecuted in Plymouth County, at age 82, for sexually abusing a disabled child.  His first known victim was abused in 1952, a 54-year history of terrorizing children. If we do not stop them,  perpetrators will continue to abuse children as long as they live, and the abuse will continue to be kept a secret.

9. Why now?

Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.  With the current situation at Penn State, Syracuse, Ireland and western Europe, the nation is extremely aware of the horrors of child sexual abuse.  People, worldwide, are clamoring for action to be taken against sexual abuse.

  The Legislature must insure that Massachusetts’s children have the best possible protection!

Why Massachusetts needs further reform of its child sexual abuse legislation:

  1. Eliminating all statutes of limitations will reduce the number of sexual offenders at large in Massachusetts. Eliminating all statutes of limitations on sexual crimes against children is a simple but powerful legislative reform. It opens the courthouse doors and lets victims expose perpetrators through peaceful, legal means.
  2. Yesterday's predator is today's predator. Psychological studies have shown that there is no "statute of limitations" for molester's attraction to children. Molesters usually continue victimizing children until they are caught and imprisoned or they die.
  3. Statutes of limitations protect pedophiles. In the 2002 Catholic child abuse crisis, only 2% of the abusers were ever jailed. Many of these confirmed abusers are now living in our communities, unidentified. They almost certainly are preying on more Massachusetts children. They constitute the largest group of unregistered sex offenders in the state.
  4. There is no "statute of limitations" on the suffering of victims—for many, the pain is pervasive and on-going, ever after years of therapy. Often, molesters have threatened to hurt the victims or their families if they reveal the abuse. When these victims are finally able to come forward, it should not be the state's role to protect a pedophile or to shield institutions that facilitated abuse.
  5. Survey: People sexually assaulted as children took more than 30 years to tell. Boston attorney Carmen Durso surveyed 39 clients who survived being sexually abused as minors. On average, their abuse began when they were 12.9 years old- but they didn't tell anyone until they were 44.7 years old. Average length of time it took this group to disclose: 32.3 years. It took Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit 60 years to report his abuse as a teenager.
  6. Other states have already taken the steps we propose. At least 15 states have no criminal statutes of limitations for serious sex crimes.
  7. The current statutes in Massachusetts protect predators, not children. The civil statute of limitations in MA now dictates that a victim must take civil action within 3 years of the act, 3 years of age 18, or 3 years from the time the victim discovered or reasonably should have discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition was caused by the act.
  8. If the statutes are eliminated, only substantial charges will be prosecuted. Defenders of statutes of limitations worry that eliminating them could expose people to false charges, but district attorneys and plaintiff attorneys know that the legal burden of proof is on them, not the defendants. They will not pursue old, unwinnable cases involving no witnesses and no evidence.
  9. If the statutes are eliminated, sexual offenders will get the treatment they need. Eliminating statutes will get more sexual offenders involved in the criminal justice system, where they will get access to much needed treatment.
  10. When history books are written . . . New sexual abuse victims are coming forward every day. In five or ten years from now, when the next major crisis of child sexual abuse may be exposed in yet another institution in Massachusetts, state lawmakers should be able to look themselves in the mirror and realize that, in 2012, their wisdom and courage made it possible for victims to get their day in court and for molesters to be stopped.