As the second half of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge 2008) documents, there are powerful lobbies opposed to giving survivors of childhood sexual abuse their day in court. The most powerful are the insurance lobby and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.
I work with many survivors of child sex abuse, who find the opposition’s arguments very painful. It is worth a moment to look at the arguments against Statutes of Limitations [SOL] reform from their eyes. (There are other arguments, including ones I have made, out there, but I want to focus for today on the survivors themselves.)
Here are three standard arguments made against SOL reform and the survivors’ response.
Opposition: In Colorado, some legislators were persuaded that SOL reform is a bad idea, because fewer people will serve on nonprofit boards due to increased liability for child abuse.
The survivors: Wait a minute—did you just say that the needs of voluntary board members of nonprofits are more important than justice for sex abuse survivors? And more important than identifying perpetrators to the public to protect children in the future? This is the sort of priority-setting that makes survivors feel almost as alienated as they feel when they learn that the SOL for their claims expired before they got to court.
Opposition: SOL reform will “bankrupt” the Roman Catholic Church.
From the Church’s survivors: So the current wealth of the Church – illustrated by the enormous and elaborate cathedral recently built in Los Angeles (which has been dubbed Taj Mahony after Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony) – is more important than bringing healing to the thousands of survivors of clergy abuse? From the incest survivors: What does the protection of your wealth have to do with me?
Opposition: SOL reform is all about obtaining money for greedy trial lawyers.
The survivors: Can you even see me over here? I’m the one bringing suit. I’m the one who needs vindication and my day in court. If it weren’t for the trial lawyers, who took these cases for years when the law was solidly against us, I would have no voice today.
If the opponents to SOL reform could hear how their arguments sound to the victims of child sex abuse, they might just come to understand how frivolous those arguments are when compared to the needs of sex abuse survivors.
I’m not saying they will – just suggesting they should.