NY State Senate should vote on Child Victims Act

The penalty for pedophilia in New York would be two quick ones to the back of the head if I had my way.

But you can’t do that in a democracy. There’s a little thing called due process. But dollars to doughnuts, there’d be a lot of nodding heads if I were to pitch the base-of-the-skull idea to the Republican State Senate conference in Albany behind closed doors.

Republicans have always been the tough-on-crime party in New York. Senate Republicans have led the way for decades in toughening sexual assault laws.

I worked for years helping promote several of their bills, including New York’s version of Megan’s Law (1995), which created the state’s sex-offender registry, and the civil management law (2007), which allowed judges to order civil confinement for the most dangerous recidivist sex criminals after their prison terms have been served.

Those measures took enormous effort to be made law. They only passed because it became politically toxic to oppose them in the end. The State Assembly, which maddeningly ignored both bills for a long while, simply had to put them on the floor for a vote. (Many good bills, including one that would prohibit convicted child molesters from living with 500 feet from schools or playgrounds, continue to languish in that legislative body.)

But it’s the Republican-led Senate that’s been holding up the most important legislation in decades for victims of childhood sexual abuse. The Child Victims Act, which has overwhelmingly passed in the State Assembly several times, would increase the amount of time pedophilia victims have to file civil claims and criminal charges against attackers and institutions that willfully ignored evidence that an employee posed a threat to children.

Under current New York law, child sex abuse victims have until age 23 to file criminal charges for offenses that don’t include the top felony rape charges, and until age 21 to file civil claims against institutions. But the average age for childhood sexual abuse disclosure is 42, according to experts.

Pedophilia is a crime like no other. It can take decades to come to grips with its effects. Many victims never recover from its trauma, turning to alcohol, drugs and even suicide for solace. There is an untold cost on survivors and society.

The Child Victims Act would extend the time in which a victim can sue to age 50 and allow survivors to file criminal charges up to age 28. A one-year window would be made available for these pedophilia suits to be filed on expired claims.

I get why the Senate hasn’t moved on this bill. But fear of an overwhelmed court system isn’t warranted. There’s data to prove it. Eight states, including Utah, Connecticut and California, have passed versions of the Child Victims Act without significant issue, even as #MeToo reports grow. With a population almost twice New York’s, California saw just 1,150 cases filed in the one year window it granted. And when all is said and done, the plaintiff’s burden is enormous in these cases. They would have to provide evidence of sex assault decades after they occurred in many cases.

There is pushback, too, from New York institutions fearing bankruptcy if they are held liable for having willfully ignored pedophilia in their ranks. But most of these organizations are well insured — and the real bankruptcy they should fear is of the moral order.

It’s past time for the State Senate to put the Child Victims Act on the floor for an up-or-down vote, morally and politically. Those who oppose it are welcome to explain why to a public that’s had it with sex crimes.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.

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