By Larry McShane (NY Daily News)
March 29, 2016
It wasn't until after his 33rd birthday that the crippling flashbacks began for Michael DeSantis.
The one where he’s a grammar school kid, innocently riding his skateboard to the apartment of a parish priest. Once inside, he’s raped by one cleric and forced to perform oral sex on another.
Or the one where a voice commands, “Give him God’s love,” before forcing the boy to service a third priest.
Or the time he was targeted by yet another priest inside Our Lady of Mercy Church in upstate Colonie — his family parish, where he was an altar boy and his mother worked for years.
The married father of five, first sexually violated when he was 9, is among a growing number of pedophilia victims urging the state to scrap its statute of limitations on certain child sex abuse charges.
DeSantis wants to clarify one crucial point about the fight: It’s not about money. It’s about trying to recover what’s left of his stolen dignity.
“I’m not here looking for a quick buck,” says the 39-year-old sexual abuse survivor. “I don’t want your dirty money. All I’m asking for is a day in court. It’s a crime and a travesty that New York State will not allow that.”
The change would assist the now-adult victims in getting a measure of emotional, legal and financial closure against the predators of their past.
Currently, both criminal and civil cases are history once the victim hits age 23.
Advocates and victims say the full impact and memory of the childhood abuse is often buried for decades, left unspoken as fear, shame and pain eclipse everything else.
Many turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Others struggle with posttraumatic stress disorder.
It took Daniel Cunningham nearly 30 years to find the strength to speak about the sexual abuse that started when he was an 11-year-old boy in Catholic school.
“I knew as a young adult what happened, but I was too scared to go to anyone with it,” recalled the 49-year-old Brooklyn man. “As an adult, I tried to get some justice, but it was too late.”
Cunningham recalled his visit to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, where he learned for the first time about the state law that would spare his adult abuser.
“They told me there was nothing they could do, and put me in victims’ services,” he said. “I got free counseling for a year; it was wonderful.”
Cunningham was abused starting at age 11 by a popular brother at his Catholic high school. He thinks the predator relied on victim silence to escape any punishment for the crimes.
“They almost count on that,” said Cunningham. “They knew what they’re doing. They know it’s illegal. Even now, the sharing of it revictimizes me.”
Mhora Lorentson, 53, a survivor of incest and child abuse, said the young victims often try to forget about what happened rather than go to law enforcement.
“My understanding is the greater the abuse, the greater the tendency to block it out and have a huge delay in processing it,” she said.
“When the abuse occurs early, as soon as it occurs it stops your emotional development. So your reactions, even as an adult, are those of a 4-year-old, a 10-year-old — however old you were when the abuse began.”
Lorentson said her personal “healing process” kept her horrific memories hidden away until she turned 33. Once she refocused on what happened, she learned quickly that her tormentors were beyond prosecution.
“My reaction was ‘What the hell?’ ” said Lorentson. “I mean, what’s the point? Nothing can be done. It was very discouraging, to put it mildly.”
Lorentson found herself watching endless episodes of “Law & Order: SVU” just to see cases where even a fictional predator was put away.
“It became important to me, because there was no way legally or publicly for me to accomplish that goal,” she said.
DeSantis recalled his outrage when Albany County prosecutors said they couldn’t charge the five clergymen allegedly responsible for his abuse.
“I said, ‘Huh? What do you mean? You’re kidding me!’ ” he recalled of their conversation. “I wanted to bring criminal charges. I mean, these guys are just going to get away with it?”
Two of the priests accused by DeSantis are dead, while the state’s statute of limitations lives on despite nearly a decade’s worth of legislative efforts.
DeSantis has spent the past five years working with Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) in her efforts to change the law.
“I’m still getting mentally abused 20 years later,” he said. “I spent three years in a fetal position. I would just cry at night.
“I used to think I was the only one. But the more we delve into this, everyone I talk to went through the same thing.”
DeSantis wishes he could see his tormentors one last time, face to face.
“I just want to sit across from them,” said DeSantis of his sick assailants, “and say, ‘Look at what the hell you did to my life.’”