A coalition of organizations, advocates, and sex abuse survivors from across New York has kicked off a campaign to extend the statute of limitations in New York for child sexual abuse crimes. The group hopes to convince Republican state senators to support the effort and began Wednesday at the district offices of two Hudson Valley senators.
Marci Hamilton is CEO and academic director of Philadelphia-based CHILD USA, which aims to protect children from abuse and neglect. She is a founding member of New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators.
The focus this year for the Child Victims Act is on how to identify who the hidden predators are in the state of New York,” Hamilton says. “We’ve been working for over 10 years to get the CVA passed. It hasn’t worked focusing on children and so we now think that we really have to point out the fact that, so long as the CVA is not passed, pedophiles are operating at will in the state of New York.”
The Child Victims Act would expand the criminal statute of limitations to victims who are 28 years old, and the civil statute of limitations to those up to 50 years old. Most victims are barred from filing criminal and civil claims once they turn 23. Hamilton calls New York’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes “restrictive.” She says it reflects laws in a few other states.
“It’s pretty remarkable that New York, Alabama, Mississippi and Michigan would be in the same category,” Hamilton says. “New York is almost identical to Alabama, so for all the men in the state of New York that have the history of Roy Moore, they have the same protections.”
The Republican Moore, who is accused of sexual assault and child molestation, lost a special U.S. Senate election Tuesday in Alabama. Capital region resident Richard Tollner is with New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators.
“My victimization took place when I lived on Long Island and was molested by a teacher who then later on even became an attorney who handled sex abuse cases, no less, representing the Catholic Church against victims,” says Tollman.
“Nationally, everybody’s discussing sexual abuse and sexual harassment, women and people out there and children, and we’re hearing more and more stories every day,” Tollman says. “If you can hear my voice right now, you probably know someone who’s been sexually abused.”
Hamilton and the other advocates began their day holding a press conference outside state Senator Terrence Murphy’s office in Shrub Oak, in Westchester County. She says Murphy’s staff discussed the matter with her group.
“The outcome is that we don’t see Senator Murphy on the right side yet,” says Hamilton.
As for the prospect of passing the Child Victims Act in the 2018 legislative session, Murphy, in a statement, says, "To the victims of childhood sexual abuse: we believe you. We support you. You're not alone, and while you are dealing with something terrible, legislators are looking at solutions. You are trailblazers, and we are going to fight to lengthen the statute of limitations for the future to protect all New Yorkers." Murphy notes that a previous iteration of the Act raised concerns about due process.
Coalition members then headed north to Dutchess County, to Senator Sue Serino’s office in Hyde Park. And while Serino was not there, her director of district operations spoke with Hamilton and other advocates. Here’s Hamilton.
“What we’ve said is that perhaps Senator Serino secretly or privately supports this bill, but we’re asking her to make it public,” says Hamilton.
In a statement, Serino says, “As a mom, nothing fills me with rage more than hearing about these disgusting hidden predators. Those who they have preyed on absolutely deserve justice. We have a duty to hold predators accountable and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, and I am fully open to considering all of the ways that we can do that effectively."
New York City resident Connie Altimarano says her step-grandfather abused her when she was a toddler.
“The signs were there. I was a scared little girl in school with migraines, with my head down to the desk, and the teacher would say, ‘don’t worry, it’ll go away, just put your head down,’ and I’m terrified that at dismissal, am I going to get raped today?” Altimarano says.
Altimarano says victims deserve justice and, if the Child Victims Act becomes law, she could rest easier.
“But I will have internal peace that there’s laws there for my daughter, my grandchildren and the kids that I see every day,” says Altimarano.
Meantime, Senator Serino says she will continue to push for a bill she introduced that would require certain people and officials to report child abuse or suspected child abuse to law enforcement. She crafted the bill in response to a case involving Michael Kelsey, a former Dutchess County legislator, who was convicted of sexual abuse involving two Boy Scouts.