NEWTON, Mass., Feb. 4, 2011 – Virginia’s sex abuse statute of limitations law is being revised, and Voice of the Faithful, the 30,000-strong international organization formed in response to Roman Catholic Clergy sexual abuse of children, has provided input into that debate.
VOTF board member William R. Casey of Alexandria, Va., wrote a statement presenting VOTF’s views on extending sex abuse statute of limitations laws and delivered it to a Virginia Senate subcommittee and at a press conference. He joined forces with Virginia leaders of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and National Association to Protect Children.
On Feb. 2, the Virginia Senate advanced a bill which would extend the amount of time child sex abuse victims could file civil lawsuits against abusers. Currently the law limits the period to two years from the date victims turn 18. The proposed revision would allow 20 years from the date victims turn 18 or the date victims remember they were abused. The Senate advanced the bill largely because of the personal testimony of survivors who recalled the decades of devastating effects on their lives before they could confront their abuse.
Casey said in his statement that he has listened to countless stories of child sexual abuse, most of them committed by members of the Catholic clergy.
“The stories vary in the details, but they all share two common longings of the survivors,” Casey said in his statement. “The first is their urgent need to protect other children from similar sexual abuse. The second is their own need to obtain a direct acknowledgement of the abuse they suffered (both at the time of the abuse and for decades, if not a lifetime, thereafter) by their abusers and those responsible for the actions of the abusers.”
Statute of limitations laws are the single biggest impediment to the satisfaction of both these needs, Casey pointed out. “Most survivors require years of life experience before they begin to connect the source of their suffering to the recollection of child abuse that they suppressed in order to deal with the trauma,” he said.
According to news reports, Jeff Caruso, Virginia Catholic Conference executive director, was quoted as saying the key word for these laws is “reasonable,” and his organization was credited with lobbying the Virginia House Courts of Justice Subcommittee to amend a proposed 25-year limitation to eight years. Responding to such comments during a press conference preceding the subcommittee’s debate, Camille Cooper, NAPC director of legislative affairs, called for the Catholic Church to stop trying to limit statute of limitations laws.
“Eliminating statute of limitations periods is the fairest way for Virginia to enable justice to occur for survivors of child sexual abuse,” Casey said. “A 25-year statute of limitations after age 18 would help some of those abused; an eight-year statute of limitations will not help most survivors; and the current two-year statute of limitations is cruel.”
Last week, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a separate bill extending the statute of limitations from two years to eight years, and the Senate and House of Delegates now will exchange bills and continue the debate with resolution possible as early as next week.