By Andrew Rosenthal (New York Times)
June 11, 2012
On this first day of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse trial, the prosecutor, Joseph McGettigan, put the following words up on a screen: humiliation, shame and fear. Those are the reasons it almost always takes a long time for abused children to come forward, if they ever do, perhaps especially boys raped by older men.
As Richard B. Gartner said on our Op-Ed page on June 7: "Even in 2012, we are socialized to think that 'real men' should be resilient, and certainly not victims. For a man to acknowledge sexual victimhood, even to himself, is to say he is not really male."
Mr. Sandusky's trial will focus on alleged abuse that took place between 1994 and 2009. Lawyers have heard from at least one alleged Sandusky victim who can't sue because he missed the statute of limitations cut off by nine months.
Pennsylvania actually has a relatively lenient age limit for filing child sex abuse charges—30 for civil cases and 50 for criminal cases. In New York, a victim only has five years after his or her 18th birthday to lodge a complaint. Turn 23, and the justice system shrugs.
The Times Magazine recently published a story on child sex abuse at the Horace Mann School in New York City. Most of the accused teachers are dead. But since the incidents took place in the 1970s and 1980s they would not be subject to criminal prosecution or civil suit anyway.
Statutes of limitation exist for sound reasons – after the passage of many years evidence can be hard to come by and memory isn't always reliable. But we can't treat child abuse exactly like other crimes. We can't expect an 11-year-old boy to report what was done to him quickly, or even before he turns 23, especially if he has to reckon with a powerful institution—like Penn State, or the Roman Catholic Church—with an interest in covering up possible crimes.
A few states are revisiting deadlines for child sex abuse cases. We noted on the editorial page that Hawaii recently extended its statute of limitations on civil lawsuits. So did Delaware and California.
Reformers have introduced extension legislation in New York as well, but New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan is doing his utmost to ensure that it never becomes law. He said the measure unfairly targets the Catholic Church and would be "devastating for the life of the Church." It seems the cardinal wants to protect the "life of the Church" while denying justice for children who were abused while under its protection.