I know where a dangerous sex offender lives. He’s not registered under Megan’s Law. He can pass a background check. I believe he is still abusing kids. I know where he meets them, and I know where he abuses them. There is nothing I can do to stop him. And it’s killing me.
I know this abuser is dangerous because when I was a child he sexually abused me. I didn’t tell anyone, because he’s part of my family and I didn’t want to cause strife. As I became an adult I thought I could ignore my past and practice forgiveness. Then I heard that he had sexually abused another little girl. Her family didn’t want her to endure the trial, they didn’t cooperate with the police, and the case died. That compelled me to press charges on my abuser and spare other children. Then I learned that at the tender age of 24 I was too old to press charges on a man who had raped me. New York’s Statute of Limitations on the crime had closed.
As I grow older, I heal. I’ve attended hundreds of support groups and met thousands of survivors. I learned that my story is common. 1 in 5 children are sexually abused1. It takes them an average 21 years before they can disclose their abuse2 .So by the time most survivors can talk about their abuse they can’t take legal action against their abuser. That’s wrong, and also dangerous to children.
We assume that sexually abused children immediately collapse into a non-responsive, crying ball until they disclose to some caring adult who calls the authorities. That’s just not what happens. Of the hundreds of survivor stories I’ve heard, exactly two went “and I told someone right after the first time it happened and they protected me”.
I only know a handful of survivors whose abusers went to prison. Many survivors can’t wrap their mind around their abuser abusing other children. But as they heal, or learn their abuser is spending time with children, Statutes of Limitations bar them from court. The same statutes that keep victims from court keep abusers on the streets, abusing kids.Research shows that only 10% of the people who sexually abuse children ever see a day behind bars3.
My home state of New York has one of the worst statutes of limitations in the nation. For the last eleven years I have been one of the advocates working for reform. We support a bill called the Child Victims Act which eliminates the statutes of limitations for new crimes and gives victims like me one year to sue our abusers. Suing an abuser, as opposed to arresting them, is a little underwhelming, but it provides survivors with a way to get their predator’s crimes documented and public, which protects other children.
This legislation is popular. Polls of New York voters show significant support and a petition in favor of the Child Victims Act got over 60,000 signatures in two weeks. The opposition to the bill comes from the Catholic Church, who fears disclosure and accountability. Anyone understanding Catholicism enough to understand the sacrament of confession will understand how ridiculous this is. New York’s Republican lawmakers are committed to supporting the Church and opposing the bill.
The ACE study from the CDC predicts that 20% of children will be sexually abused. That’s a huge, ugly number. It’s so big that it seems abstract, hopeless, unchangeable. An issue we can largely ignore except when there’s a high-profile case, when we pay it lip service but ignore the significant legislation that can make a real difference.
I can’t ignore my abuser. Most survivors can’t. They’re still out there. Abusers are parents and grandparents, foster parents and beloved neighbors. They are teachers and coaches and scout leaders and day care workers. Most people see them as “nice” people, but their victims know the truth. Only their victims know that children are in danger. And these victims have been silenced.
People say child sexual abuse is one of the worst types of abuse someone can endure.
They’re not wrong, but being forced to silently condone the abuse of other children is worse. And that won’t change until the laws change. And that won’t happen until we rise up, en masse, and make it happen.
Will you join me?
1 Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study
2 “Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse Among Male Survivors” by Scott D. Easton, December of 2013 Clinical Social Work Journal”
3 Robert Baker of the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board, Massachusetts Office of Public Safety. 2008