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Alternative to proposed Child Victims Act does more for victims, sponsor says

WBFO file photo

As supporters of New York State's proposed Child Victims Act urge lawmakers to get it passed next session, a Republican State Senator says an alternative bill she's sponsoring would do more for child sexual abuse victims by fully eliminating statues of limitation and add clergy to the list of "mandated reporters."

State Senator Catharine Young, whose 57th Senate District covers the Southern Tier in Western New York, introduced a bill in May known as the Child Victims Fund. It would eliminate statutes of limitation entirely for criminal action and create a state compensation fund for victims, financed by an estimated $300 million from asset forfeiture money from the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Current law gives victims until the age of 23 to pursue legal action, civil or criminal. Under the proposed Child Victims Act backed by Democrats in the State Assembly, victims would have until the age of 28 to seek criminal charges and until the age of 50 to sue for civil damages.

It passed the Assembly this year but stalled in the Senate, as it has for a dozen years. Senator Young says many cases would still not be brought to justice under the Child Victims Act.

"Often times, victims of child sexual abuse do not even really process it or start to deal with it until their into their 40s," Young said. "Maybe they've blocked it out mentally. Maybe they just can't deal with it."

The Child Victims Act would be effective, she estimated, in only 20 percent of child sexual abuse cases. 

"The vast majority of child sex abuse cases happen outside of an institution," the senator said. "They happen in the home, where unfortunately it's a family matter. It may be a babysitter. It may be a neighbor. The overwhelming majority of those victims, who are abuse by someone who doesn't have deep pockets, will not get any compensation."

Young's proposed Child Victims Fund would eliminate statutes of limitation entirely for criminal action and create a state compensation fund for victims, financed by an estimated $300 million from asset forfeiture money from the Manhattan district attorney's office. 

The Child Victims Act, in contrast, could potentially cost taxpayers millions of dollars in compensation to victims, Young suggested.

"One of the institutions that could be sued would be public schools," she said. "If that happens, then there would be a heavy cost to the taxpayers."

In response to a new development in the Diocese of Buffalo's sexual abuse scandal - the resgination of St. Mary's Swormville pastor Father Robert Yetter following a new complaint against him - Erie County District Attorney John Flynn renewed his wish for state lawmakers to pass the Child Victims Act but admitted even that would prevent him from pursuing older cases.

"I'm not going to be able to go back to the 80s and 90s, no matter what," Flynn said. "It's more of going forward. Five years from now, ten years from now, if a family comes forward I'm not going to be able to say to them... I don't want to be able to say to them I can't do anything because the legislators didn't pass the Child Victims Act. I'm never going to be able to go back to the 80s, unfortunately."

The Child Victims Fund would also add members of the clergy to the list of "mandated reporters," or those who would be obligated to report suspected abuse to the authorities. The bill would also require criminal background checks for employees and volunteers who work with children.

State Senator Tim Kennedy, in a recent interview with WBFO, blamed the current Senate leadership for preventing a vote on the Child Victims Act while saying there is strong bipartisan support for its passage.

Could Senator Young's bill gain support in Albany?

"We have a ton of support and, frankly, we have 22 Senate sponsors on the bill I put in," she replied. "One of the leading advocates, (child sex abuse survivor) Gary Greenberg has been extraordinarily supportive of the Child Victims Fund version."

Greenberg helped Young craft her bill but that was met by resistance from both Senate leadership and Senate Democrats. Greenberg told the New York Daily News in July he is now convinced it will require a shift to a Democratic majority to get any action brought up for a vote. 

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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