A change in New York law made it possible for more than 9,000 complaints of child abuse to be filed, including cases against Prince Andrew, Bob Dylan and high-profile Catholic priests, previously blocked by the state’s statute of limitations, which sets strict guidelines for how long victims have to file a lawsuit.
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Tom Andriola was 25 years old, standing on the edge of Bryce Canyon, in Utah, in the western United States, and the urge to jump kept crossing his mind.
It had been 14 years since his adoptive older brother sexually abused himBut the memory was still alive
There, on the edge of the canyon, in the solitude of the park, his wife became the first person to whom he told it.
“I really thought that if I talked about this, he would come and kill me,” Andriola recalls.
A few weeks earlier, that same brother had come to visit them and had stayed with them one more day than planned.
Something during that trip triggered memories of the abuse, which made Andriola anxious and impatient for her brother to leave.
But even after Utah, years went by without her telling anyone else.
Since the abuse had happened so long ago, the brother he was never held accountable. And it is that by the time Andriola was ready to publicly reveal his story, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit in New York State, where the abuse took place, had expired.
Therefore, in addition, although his brother was finally convicted of sexually abusing another child, Andriola was not allowed to testify at his trial.
“I never received an acknowledgment or an apology. The only thing I got was that they caught him with someone else, ”he said.
Now, thanks to a change in state law, people like Andriola may have a better chance of obtaining justice.
The New York Child Victims Law (CVA) suspended statute of limitations for child abuse cases for two years, allowing potential victims to file civil lawsuits that they could not have filed before.
The law, passed in 2019, gave victims until August 14, 2021 to file lawsuits. And in that period, more than 9,200.
Many more abuses
Among the accused are the prince andrés and singer bob dylan, who deny the accusations.
Marci Hamilton, executive director of Child USA, a nonprofit organization working to end child abuse, said the 10,000 or so lawsuits represent only a “very small” portion of what is believed to be the true scale of abuse in the state.
The data indicate that approximately one in five girls and one in 13 childrenwill be sexually abused in United States. And “that’s between 15 and 20% of the population,” Hamilton noted.
Various studies have concluded that around a third of child sexual abuse victims will talk about what they experienced before adulthood.
But another third do so much later in life – the median age in the U.S. is 52 years. The rest reveal nothing.
Fear – of retaliation, of not being believed – is critical, as is shame, as some victims are concerned that they have caused the abuse on themselves.
There is also confusion.
It is possible that children do not immediately recognize what happened to them, often at the hands of a trusted adult, such as abuse or rape.
Lawsuits against 24 clergymen of the Catholic Church
The rectory of St. Cecilia Catholic Church in New York City was bigger than David Ferrick, who was 10 years old at the time, thought.
A priest from his Catholic school was offering him a tour of it.
Ferrick, now 52, had asked to speak to the priest alone at the urging of his mother, who thought he needed parental guidance.
This man was the obvious choice: he was “everyone’s friend,” the cool priest who listened to the Beatles and took the kids to school basketball games.
As Ferrick recalls, the priest invited him into his room “for privacy,” he told him.
The sultry heat of that summer afternoon made the atmosphere in the room suffocating.
“Let’s take off our shirts,” Ferrick recalls the priest telling him, before suggesting that they should “get some rest.”
“I’m going to take off my pants too, it’s very hot,” he supposedly added. “You should do the same”.
The 10-year-old felt it was a strange request, but he trusted his priest.
According to Ferrick, the priest made him lie down next to him on the bed to take a nap before speaking, he explained.
“He snuggled up behind me,” explains Ferrick. “I thought it was strange, but that he really loved me because he was a priest.”
“I started to notice that he was touching the edges of my underwear, stretching it and then pulling it down. He was trying his best to pretend he was asleep. With 10 years I couldn’t process what was happening ”.
The man Ferrick speaks of is one of the 24 clerics —Today excura— appointed by 27 plaintiffs in a New York civil lawsuit, filed under the CVA.
He has been accused of abuse by several former churchmen, has denied the charges and could not be reached by the BBC for comment.
He was removed from ministry in 2004 and his robes were removed in 2006. The Diocese of Brooklyn now includes him among former members on whom it has received reports of sexual abuse with a minor.
For 20 years Ferrick did not tell anyone what happened that afternoon and the legal window to take his case to court was closed.
Before the CVA, victims of child sexual abuse in New York had until their 21st birthday, three years after becoming adults in the eyes of the state, to file civil lawsuits. And the deadline for filing criminal lawsuits was even shorter.
Now, thanks to the new law, Ferrick has the opportunity to tell a court what happened to him.
“When I heard that the statute of limitations was extended, I was very excited,” he says. Today he is serving as a witness in the case against the former priest, one of thousands filed under the CVA involving charges against Catholic clergy.
Among the most prominent cases is a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of New York for alleged sexual abuse by Theodore McCarrick, the until then Catholic cardinal who was expelled in 2019.
He is now the highest-ranking Catholic official to face sexual abuse charges in the United States.
The Vatican determined that the 91-year-old former cleric had sexually abused a child in the 1970s, but so far he has avoided prosecution in the United States, largely because statutes of limitation have prevented the filing of cases long ago. decades.
But now he faces possible civil charges in New York and New Jersey, as well as possible criminal charges in Massachusetts for allegedly sexually abusing a teenager in the 1970s.
His lawyer, Barry Coburn, rejected the BBC’s request for comment.
Increasing lawsuits against the clergy have led parishes to financial ruin. In the last two years, four of the eight dioceses of New York declared bankruptcy.
This huge legal and financial exposure of the Church has fueled much of the opposition to the CVA.
New York Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, one of three state legislators opposing the CVA, described the legislation as a “money grab” by trial attorneys and a “gratuitous alteration” of American legal principles. .
Fitzpatrick, a practicing Catholic whose own diocese declared bankruptcy in 2020 amid hundreds of abuse allegations, told the BBC that the cost was “unfair” to parishioners whose contributions to the church can be used for legal battles.
The CVA “created an opportunity for those forces that don’t like the Catholic Church to do harm,” he says.
“Was there any problem? Yes, there was, ”Fitzpatrick says when asked about sexual abuse by members of the clergy. “But the Church went ahead and moved forward to address the problem.”
“The legal system should not be manipulated to suit the vagaries of the day,” he says. “How do you know that all these statements are sincere or accurate? Do you think they are all honest? I do not”.
Variations by state
The statutes of limitations for sexual abuse vary widely in the United States.
According to the CVA, in New York the statute of criminal limitations for the sexual abuse of a minor has been extended to 28 years. For civil cases, the limit is now extended to 55 years.
But in Maine and Vermont, for example, there is no time limit for sexual assault victims to file civil lawsuits.
In North Dakota and Oregon, the deadline for criminal lawsuits is before the victim turns 40.
In Massachusetts, where former Cardinal McCarrick faces criminal charges, the typical limitation for sex crimes is lifted when the alleged abuser, if not a Massachusetts resident, leaves the state following the alleged abuse.
Andriola sees the CVA as a modest first step.
“It’s not enough,” he says. “There just shouldn’t be a statute of limitations for these cases.”
And although the CVA became law as a result of the movement #MeToo, its approval took a long time to come. The bill was first introduced in 2006 by New York State Legislator Margaret Markey.
“It is the victims who suffer the most as a result of our state’s archaic statute of limitations for these crimes,” Markey noted in 2015 when he again pushed for the bill to pass.
The cause was personal to Markey. Although he did not speak about it in the assembly hall, by the time one of his sons told him that as a child he had been abused by a priest from the church the family attended, it was too late to report.
The damages resulting from these civil lawsuits can be essential for survivors.
Victims of child abuse are more likely to suffer from conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance or alcohol abuse, experts say, and treatment in the US can be prohibitively expensive.
Hamilton of Child USA estimates the average cost to be around $ 830,000 over a lifetime.
Ferrick’s abuse infuriated him. “It’s something I’m still working on,” he says. And he is concerned about his children, three girls and two boys. “Never, ever, ever” would let them have the freedom that he did, he says, recalling his independent childhood in New York.
“Every time I think of my children going somewhere, the first thought that comes to mind is how they are going to hurt,” he says.
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Following the success of the CVA, proponents of the measure like Andriola are now turning their gaze to the Adult Survivors Act.
That law would create a one-year window for adult victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits. The legislation, which passed unanimously in the New York Senate in June, has been stalled in the State Assembly since January.
And she hopes others will follow.
“When someone has enough and is ready to talk about a certain criminal, the floodgates begin to open because finally the other survivors feel safe,” he said.
Graphics: Angelica Casas.
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