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statute of limitations sexual abuse

Movement to Rid Statute of Limitations for Child Sexual Abuse Cases Goes Beyond East and West Coast States

It’s not just victims of sexual violence on the east and west coasts who have more opportunities than ever to expose predators, stop abuse and seek justice.  The movement to help abuse survivors take action is spreading to the rest of the country too.

Lawmakers in  and other Midwestern states are following the lead of California, New York, Vermont and New Jersey who have already opened the courthouse doors to victims of sexual violence by reforming the archaic statutes of limitations.

In the wake of the #MeToo and the #ChurchToo efforts, and the continuing scandals in Boy Scouts and the Catholic church, more and more legislators are ‘seeing the light.’ They’re realizing what therapists and academics and doctors began realizing long ago: Very, very few kids have the emotional maturity, personal insight and incredible strength it takes to speak up promptly to law enforcement when it feels like they’re being mistreated.

This is especially when the predator is known and trusted by the child (as is true in most cases) and the predator acts gently and pretends the abuse is ‘love’ or ‘sex education’ or otherwise confuses the child (which is true in many cases).

Think of it this way: How often do you hear or read about an 11 year old girl who rides downtown on her bike after school and finds her way to the police headquarters and its sex crimes unit and reports that her coach has been touching her in a way that feels uncomfortable? How often does a nine year old boy call the state attorney general’s office saying “My Methodist choir director wants me to touch his private parts?”

Sadly, it takes decades for abuse victims to realize all of this: “That wasn’t affection, he hurt me,” and “The hurt was severe” and “I’m still suffering, years later” and “He probably hasn’t stopped” and “His abuse is probably what drove me to self-medicate and sabotage myself all those years” and “I’m much stronger now” and “I MAY have legal rights” and “I should, to protect others, call the law” and “Even though the police and prosecutors says it’s too late for me to act, maybe I could file a civil lawsuit and expose him and he’ll get fired from that day care center.”

Each of these is a huge hurdle. And each takes a long time to overcome. That’s why short statutes of limitations are so hurtful: By the time victims are able to head toward the courthouse, the doors have already been locked and they’re told “Sorry, you blew your chance.”

In Missouri, statute of limitations reform is particularly crucial. Here’s why.

–The largest Catholic jurisdiction in the state, the St. Louis archdiocese, admits having gotten abuse allegations against 115 individuals.

http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2014/01_02/2014_01_15_Garrison_Withor.htm

Yet publicly, they’ve identified only 64 ’credibly accused’ child molesting clerics.

http://www.bishop-accountability.org/diocesan_lists/St_Louis/2019_07_26_St_Louis_Review_Shining_Light.pdf

–Back in 1997, the Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling that makes suing those who commit or conceal abuse very difficult. (It’s called Gibson v. Brewer.) So for decades, victims in Missouri have had an even tougher time seeking justice than victims elsewhere.

(At the time, the Kansas City Star wrote: “The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that people can sue churches for alleged sexual abuse by clergy, but only under narrow guidelines.”)

http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news3/1997_08_20_Lambe_DecisionRestricts_Thomas_Ward_4.htm

–Last year, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt forwarded names of 12 Missouri clerics he believes can be prosecuted. (None, however, have been yet.)

https://www.snapnetwork.org/editorial_missouris_stilted_probe_of_clergy_abuse_must_not_be_the_last_word_on_the_issue

http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2019/01_02/2019_01_22_Clohessy_EricSchmitt.htm

–The Kansas City diocese reports 24 credibly accused abusive clerics. But BishopAccountability.org says it has 30 such individuals.

https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article234792262.html

–The KC diocese is the only place in the US where a prelate (Bishop Robert Finn) was convicted of refusing to report a now-notorious predator (Shawn Ratigan) to law enforcement.

So in Missouri, as in most states, many proven, admitted and credibly accused clerics are still ‘under the radar.’ For the safety of kids, we at Horowitz Law hope lawmakers in Missouri, and elsewhere, succeed in letting more victims expose more predators and make kids safer in the process.

church priest abuse Horowitz Law

It is 2020 — Have All the Abusive Priests Been Exposed Yet?

We predict that, if surveyed, 90% of US Catholics would agree with this statement: “These days, after decades of horrific scandal, bishops report suspected child sex crimes promptly to law enforcement.”

The trouble is, that’s not true. Look no further than this week’s news from Alaska.

As recently as 2016, a New York man was working there as a parish priest. He’s now in a Maryland treatment center for the sexually troubled. This week, he was ‘outed’ by his supervisors as a ‘credibly accused’ abuser, having reportedly viewed child porn on his computer.

https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/anchorage/2020/01/16/archdiocese-accuses-14-southcentral-alaska-clergy-and-church-employees-of-sexual-abuse/

But the cleric, Fr. Robert Leising, says “no police were involved.”

What? How can that be? Haven’t bishops promised, time and time again, that they’ve ‘learned from the past’ and nowadays ‘immediately call police’ if they suspect child sex crimes?

It’s of course possible that Fr. Leising is not telling the truth. Who knows? (Why would he lie?) But his comments were publicly reported in the news media on Thursday. Today is Friday. No Catholic figure inside or outside of Alaska has contradicted his claim.

Are we glad his boss finally admitted he’s ‘credibly accused?’ Certainly.

Is that enough? Of course not.

What should Catholic officials do now?

They should give every shred of information about Fr. Leising’s alleged crimes to local police and prosecutors.

They should explain why they evidently didn’t do this immediately.

They should fire (or at least discipline) every person who, through action or inaction, didn’t call the law.

They should explain why Fr. Leising was supposedly ‘returned’ to his religious order (the Oblates of Mary Immaculate) in 2016, which suggests they kept quiet about his alleged crimes for years.

They should use every mechanism possible to seek out others who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes by Fr. Leising or cover ups by his colleagues (using parish websites, church bulletins, pulpit announcements and news releases). This should happen first in the towns where he worked most recently: Soldotna and Homer.

And church officials in New York should also do aggressive outreach. (He grew up in a small town between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. He may have molested kids or watched or made child porn in his hometown, while younger or while back home on a visit.)

Fr. Leising was publicly named this week along with other clergy “ranging from a deacon to an assistant to the archbishop to the chaplain of a homeless shelter” who worked “across Southcentral Alaska, including Anchorage, Talkeetna, Cooper Landing, Seward, Glennallen, Ninilchik and Valdez,” in some clearly remote and isolated communities among very vulnerable families.

https://www.archdioceseofanchorage.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Bishops-letter-report011620.pdf

The Archdiocese “covers 138,985 square miles — larger than the size of New Mexico. It stretches from Glennallen to Unalaska,” according to its website.

That’s a lot of territory for those who commit and conceal child sex crimes to work in with little or no supervision or oversight. And it’s potentially a very lonely place for a betrayed, suffering victim of sexual violence.

Juneau Bishop Andrew Bellisario is the temporary head of the Anchorage Archdiocese (replacing replaced Anchorage Bishop Paul Etienne). Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger is the temporary head of the Buffalo diocese (replacing Bishop Richard Malone).

Both must take further steps to protect the vulnerable, expose the truth and help bring healing.

And regardless of what Catholic officials do or don’t do, federal and local law enforcement should look long and hard and what seems to be a violation of secular law – knowing or suspecting child sex crimes but refusing to call police or prosecutors.

(Ironically, Fr. Leising isn’t the only ‘just outed’ Alaska abuser from New York. The Anchorage list also includes the name of Fr. Stanley Allie of Albany, who reportedly victimized a vulnerable adult in Alaska.)

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, brothers, nuns, seminarians, bishops and others. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by church employee or volunteer, contact our office today toll-free at (888) 283-9922 or email us at adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com today.