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.
Yet publicly, they’ve identified only 64 ’credibly accused’ child molesting clerics.
–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.”)
–Last year, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt forwarded names of 12 Missouri clerics he believes can be prosecuted. (None, however, have been yet.)
–The Kansas City diocese reports 24 credibly accused abusive clerics. But BishopAccountability.org says it has 30 such individuals.
–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.