Ten years ago, New York tried to join the ranks of states like California that had eliminated the state’s Statute of Limitations (SOL) for child sexual abuse. A decade later, well-funded battles by the Roman Catholic Church have rendered New York among the most sex-offender friendly states in the nation.
The Catholic Church has cultivated opposition to the bill with the rallying cry “this will have unintended consequences”. The one the Church mentions first is financial distress forcing them to close churches and discontinue services. In Massachusetts, where not-for-profits like churches have their liability capped at $20,000, SOL reform was still fought tooth and nail. This has lead many advocates to suspect the Catholic Church is more interested in keeping their secrets than their assets.
While the bill is picking up momentum, it is unlikely to pass this year. The Catholic Church has done such a good job at making lawmakers worry about the unintended consequences of passing it they have completely forgotten about the unintended consequences of not passing it.
One such consequence is 51,821 children being sexually abused in the state each year. That’s 466,389 children sexually abused in the last nine years. Eliminating the SOL won’t prevent all of that abuse, but it is the best legislative remedy available. Sexually abused children rarely disclose their abuse while they’re still children- a recent study showed it takes an average 21 years before a child can disclose their abuse. Yes, every day we see stories on TV of children disclosing sexual abuse. But statistically, for each of those children there’s a middle-aged adult hasn’t told anyone yet. Unfortunately, the person who abused both of those victims will likely keep abusing children until they get caught or die. But keeping adult survivors from the courtrooms is a major reason why 90% of those who sexually abuse children never see a day behind bars.
When we sentence children to sexual abuse en masse, we sentence society to pay a staggering price. Sexual abuse is one of the ten Adverse Childhood Experiences identified by the CDC as being traumatic enough to cause life-long harm to children unlucky enough to experience them. The CDC estimates each abused child represents a taxpayer burden of about $210,000. This is a good argument for making abusers and institutions that enable them pay the bill for tolerating child sexual abuse (CSA)- someone needs to pay it, and it makes logical sense for this to fall onto the shoulders of the guilty, not taxpayers.
The consequences of ACE’s concern everyone in our society, but suicide and abortion are of particular concern to the Catholic church, who consider both acts sin. Both acts are tied strongly to ACE’s, and abortion is linked very strongly with child sexual abuse. Some of this is direct, with post-pubescent girls getting impregnated by their abusers. While many of these girls get abortions through legal channels, many perform the procedure themselves or are subjected to some form of at-home abortion from their abuser. So I suspect CSA causes more abortions, directly, than the data implies, but most of the link is due to an inability to form healthy sexual boundaries. Regardless of how a child may be ushered into sexual abuse, whether violence or coercion is used, whether the child’s vulnerability or innocence is exploited, a child does not consent to sex. And the lesson that sex happens without their consent follows children into adulthood. Some survivors describe automatically consenting to sex, because they’ve learned saying “no” won’t stop anyone, but consent makes things more bearable. Some survivors describe being unable to expect any sort of love or closeness without sex. Some describe feeling they don’t deserve to be with respectful partners. The end result is that many CSA survivors have lots of partners (more than 50 partners in a lifetime is tied to an ACE score of more than four) and can’t navigate sex without alcohol or drugs. This complicates contraception usage. Thus, a perfect storm for abortion is established.
The Catholic church does a stellar job at providing food and shelter to many people in desperate need. In many communities, they are the leading providers of mental health and substance abuse cessation services. The logical next step for them is to provide assistance for CSA victims. This is something society needs very badly, but one thing all survivors want is to be the last victim. The last victim of their abuser, the last victim of a society more interested in the unintended consequences of fighting this plague than of ignoring it.
The Catholic Church could make a very significant contribution to all CSA survivors simply by not fighting against the movement to repeal the Statutes of Limitations that keep predators on the streets.
A survey last year showed the Child Victims Act is popular throughout the entire state, among all demographics and both parties. Most people on the street are more concerned about the unintended consequences of not protecting children than of protecting them. And it’s time we tell that to our elected officials.