March 8, 2013
Written Testimony for New York State Assembly Codes Committee Hearing
Re: In SUPPORT of Bill A1771 – Child Victims Act
To Chairman Lentol and the Honorable Members of the Codes Committee,
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak in favor of Assembly Billl A1771 the Child Victims Act. My name is Christopher Anderson. I am the Executive Director of MaleSurvivor, a national organization that provides male survivors of sexual abuse and our partners in healing with hope, healing, and support. I am also a survivor of sexual abuse that I suffered at the hands of a neighbor when I was child. Like many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, it took me over 20 years to begin my healing journey.
This single fact is the reason I have come to testify today. Under current New York law, even if I had incontrovertible evidence of the abuse that I suffered, I would be 13 years too late to bring that man to justice. This is one of the major reasons that sexual abuse remains an intractable problem in our state. Sexual abusers of children oftentimes can and do victimize children for decades. Yet adult survivors who have the ability to put a stop to their crimes are silenced for fear they cannot provide credible evidence. As it stands the grown child of an serial child abuser might well be unable to prevent the abuse of their own child by his or her grandparent, because the law silences the adult survivor while expecting the vulnerable and hurting child to stand up for themselves. As long as the current statute of limitations remains in place thousands of sexual abusers will remain able to molest children at will in our schools, churches, and even homes.
Sexual abuse is a silent epidemic that is the greatest public health crisis in this country. A least 1 out every 5 children, male or female, is the victim of unwanted and abusive sexual contact before the age of 16 . Think about that for a moment – for every 100 constituents you represent, at least 20 were sexually abused as children. Studies show that victims of abuse are at far higher risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide. The life expectancies for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and other forms of childhood trauma are also years shorter than those who were more fortunate.
Sexual abuse is a crime that shames, stigmatizes, and silences the voices of the victims. Almost every survivor blames themselves for being abused. As I said, it took me over 20 years to disclose that I was sexually abused, even though all that time I carried the memory and pain close to the surface. Why? Like many survivors, and male survivors in particular, I minimized what happened to me so that I could carry on - a short-term strategy that almost always leads to long-term harm. Like many survivors I spent decades battling crippling depression and profound anxiety that severely affected my ability to relate in healthy ways to others and to myself.
Some opponents to this measure state that memories fade and that we cannot allow victims to bring charges after too long a time has passed. I can assure you that the memory of this pain does not fade. Many survivors continue to live in the same community, sometimes the same house, as the person who abused them. No one can predict how long it will take before a survivor of childhood sexual assault will be prepared to go to trial. and who are we to demand that they do so before they are ready?
Others say that evidence is lost and witnesses die. But where there is an institution there is paperwork – mountains of paperwork. Thanks to recent trials in California, Oregon, and Hawaii – trials which were made possible by the legislative reforms we desperately need here in New York, tens of thousands of files documenting known or suspected abuse by priests, scout leaders, coaches, teachers, and volunteers have come to light. In addition, prosecutors in Pennsylvania filed additional charges against Penn State officials because MORE documentation was revealed at trial that showed administrators not only knew, but also discussed, Jerry Sandusky’s disturbing behavior.
Some say that if the Statute of Limitations is lifted, a flood of lawsuits will bankrupt institutions vital to the health of our communities. First - how can we justify allowing schools, sports programs, and – yes – religious institutions to escape liability when they repeatedly fail to take simple steps that would help prevent children from being raped? Moreover how can any institution that makes it easier for children to be raped be considered vital to the health of our society? Regardless, the likelihood of any institution being flooded by lawsuits would actually decrease if this bill were passed. Artificial time limits actually hinder the healing process and lead to more suits being filed because survivors risk losing their the ability to bring any action. Further, it disincentivises institutions from working proactively with survivors, advocates, and the experts who are best prepared to help them improve institutional reposnses to abuse. Why bother fixing a problem when they can stall and delay long enough to avoid all liability?
The notion that surviviors are greedily seeking money is a gross insult, and it’s simply wrong. No amount of money can give me back what was taken from me, and no amount of money is worth the scrutiny, stigma, and viscious slander thrown at survivors who attempt to go to trial. Survivors want to heal, and we want to ensure that what was done to us does not happen to others. Many well-intentioned people mistakenly think that the very same institutions that harbor abusers can be counted on to fix themselves from within. Time after time after time victims have received empty promises from those in charge only to learn that the teacher who was transferred or the priest who was passed onto another parish has abused yet more children.
The time is long past for reform of these archaic, and tragically ill-informed statutes of limitation. We must open the doors of the courthouse to any survivor courageous enough to bring charges. People who sexually abuse children do not retire from molesting. Many of them continue to abuse and rape children right under our noses today. What sense does it make to demand an 8 year old take the stand against someone who committed the same crime decades ago against a survivor who has the evidence necessary for a conviction, and the courage and strength to withstand the pressures of a trial? It is only when we hear the victim’s voice that we can begin to right what is wrong. I urge you to support the survivors all around us. You can give us back our voices. By enacting laws attuned to our needs we can begin a healing process that will help not just surviors, but also our communities as well.
Thank you for your time and attention,
Christopher M. Anderson
Executive Director, MaleSurvivor