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Northern Ireland’s authorities launched a worldwide appeal for evidence from victims of child abuse in the province. This appeal comes at the launch of an investigation into abuse at children’s homes. Photo by: Google Images

Tear down statute of limitations on cases of sexual abuse of children

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Northern Ireland’s authorities launched a worldwide appeal for evidence from victims of child abuse in the province. This appeal comes at the launch of an investigation into abuse at children’s homes. Photo by: Google Images

Markey aims to extend limitations on reporting sex abuse cases
Margaret Markey is a New York State Assemblywoman from Queens who represents heavily Irish Catholic neighborhoods such as Woodside, Maspeth and Sunnyside.

Elected in 1998, Markey, a past president of the New York State American Irish Legislators Society, has stepped into the fray over the recent spate of sex abuse horror stories and offered up a solution that seems eminently sensible.

Markey has introduced a bill that would change the current statute of limitations when it comes to criminal and civil cases.  Currently, when the victim turns 18, they have five years to come forth. 
Markey’s bill would not start the clock until the victims turn 23.

“I’m going to do what I can to get Governor Cuomo and the Senate on board,” Markey was quoted in the Daily News as saying. “I think we have a fair chance with the governor.”

It’s not hard to understand why Markey would call for the passage of this bill now.  We have read about a terrible litany of sex abuse crimes against kids in recent weeks. 

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There have been allegations coming out at a dizzying pace -- from Penn State University, from Syracuse University and from Poly Prep High school in Brooklyn, just to name a few.

And, of course, it is impossible to discuss a story such as this without acknowledging the broader history of abuse in the Catholic Church, in the U.S., Ireland and elsewhere.

And therein lies some of the trouble.

The Catholic Church has lobbied to prevent the passage of Markey’s bill.  She made note of this fact when commenting about it earlier this week.

“This bill is not about the Catholic Church,” said Markey. “It is about pedophiles. But some of my colleagues are intimidated by the Catholic Church.”

And lest anyone suggest Markey is merely jumping on a hot issue to get some headlines, she has been fighting for a bill such as this for most of the past decade.

As the Daily News noted, “Markey first introduced the bill seven years ago and it cleared the Assembly several times but has faced stiff opposition from the Republican-controlled Senate and the Catholic Church.”

Irish Americans such as David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, have long supported legislation extending the statute of limitations in such cases.

Clohessy and others had hoped the ongoing horror of abuse revelations might persuade lawmakers in New York, as well as Arizona and Wisconsin, to pass Markey’s law.

This past summer, however, after intense lobbying efforts by the New York State Catholic Conference, a similar bill was defeated in the New York State Senate.

“You cannot ask institutions to take responsibility for the failures of a few individuals whose actions took place 40 and 50 years ago,” said Dennis Poust, the communications director of the New York State Catholic Conference.

There is no point in making this a story about the evil, secretive Catholic Church. 

First of all, the Catholic Church is not the only religious organization opposed to these reforms. 

Numerous Jewish groups also see the law as a way to decimate their finances, images or both.  (And further proving this is not merely a Catholic problem, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes is currently prosecuting “an astounding 85 accused Orthodox child molesters,” according to the New York Post.)

More broadly, it should go without saying that sex abuse cases that originated years, even decades earlier, must be treated with a certain amount of sensitivity.  There is research that suggests childhood memories about such traumatic events can be unreliable. 

On the other hand, it is also clear that victims often bury their pain away in deep, dark places.  There are a thousand and one reason to do this, one of them being that a 12-year-old has positively no idea what to do with such pain. 

Adulthood finally brings with it a sense that something can be done about such a horrendous crime.
That a statute of limitations might possibly protect a criminal who, it’s quite clear, has a pattern of abusive behavior, is yet another insult to the victims who have suffered so long.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at tomdeignan@earthlink.net or facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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