An Open Letter to the Change-Maker Hillary Rodham Clinton on Behalf of Sexual Abuse Victims in the United States

Updated:
Posted in: Civil Rights

Dear Democratic Presidential Candidate and Sec. Hillary Rodham Clinton:

I had the good fortune to attend the Democratic National Convention on July 26, 2016, to witness the Roll Call vote that would nominate you as the first woman ever to be a presidential candidate for either political party. Why was I there? Because a friend offered me the coveted tickets, because I wanted my 21-year-old daughter to witness history, and because the theme of the evening was women and children’s issues.

Though you did not attend in person on this night, you were present in the stories of your lifelong work for women and children. It was moving to hear all of the causes you have led, particularly for children. I had also done some homework before attending. I read several of your early writings, including an article published in 1973 entitled, “Children Under the Law,” which was worth the cost of scaling the Harvard Educational Review’s paywall. It was energizing to see that you saw the emergence of a children’s civil rights movement and you even championed Justice Douglas’s concurrence in Wisconsin v. Yoder—the free exercise case permitting the Amish to shorten their children’s education for religious reasons—where he reasoned that the interests of the children were not identical with their parents. If a child had objected to being deprived of a full education, Justice Douglas thought that objection should be relevant. We now know his concerns were legitimate given the educational disabilities children experience who leave the Amish and the widespread educational neglect of boys in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. He was so right and you took a clear-eyed view of it.

Then there were the many issues you have championed for children: healthcare, early education, affordable daycare, and, a world where children can “fulfill their god-given potential.” You have stood up against systemic racism, called for criminal justice reform, and championed rebuilding communities, because our children deserve it. Your convention showcased the “Mothers of the Movement,” who are mothers whose children have been killed by police shootings, and a call for “common sense gun legislation.” Speaking as a mother, lawyer, and a child advocate, I commend you for these noble causes and accomplishments.

But I must ask you: where were the victims of the active, devastating, and costly epidemic of child sex abuse here in the United States? The Platform failed them (as did the Republican platform, as I discuss here) but one always hopes that pressing issues will make it onto the Convention stage whether they have made it onto paper or not.

Your husband praised you repeatedly as a “Change Maker” and signs were handed out bearing that phrase. You could have filled the stage (many times over) with survivors who need change. Indeed, there are many subcategories of the sex abuse universe that you could have tapped, and it would have galvanized voters.

Think of this: you could have filled the stage with just the mothers and fathers of victims who died from suicide or a drug overdose as a result of the damage from the abuse and the failures of the legal system. Or, given the theme of the night of women and children, you could have tapped into the largest cohort of sexually abused children: the girls whose fathers, brothers, uncles, or grandfathers rape them in their own beds. They need a champion and real hope at the federal level, because so many states are failing them.

As I listened, it seemed to me that this issue is tailor-made for you, and the timing is right. It is now front-page news on a routine basis, and is no longer deeply buried by denial, the bystander culture, or the old boys’ club. With Spotlight, the issue won an Oscar for godssake, so you know that the outrage has reached a national fulcrum. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, from your home state, was the person who cast New York’s votes at the Convention, and he has become a vocal supporter of the survivors and their rights to justice. Who was standing right next to him? Sen. Brad Hoylman, another hero for the survivors in New York. They know, after the years of political wrangling over giving victims even modest justice in that state, that ignoring the victims is no longer the smart political bet.

It occurred to me that perhaps you were taking a cue from so many politicians around the country, who have chosen to defer to the Catholic bishops, who in turn are fighting for their professional lives to stuff this genie back in the bottle. Millions of Catholic dollars are being spent in states like Pennsylvania and New York to block victims from justice in both the courtroom and the legislatures. Was this omission pandering to religious powers in opposition to the common good? In the back of my mind, I had to wonder, because of the position the State Department took when you were the Secretary of State, siding with the Vatican in a child sex abuse case pending at the Supreme Court. I know, because I represented the victim at the appellate stages. The position the Department took was indefensible as a matter of law, and it is difficult to separate you from your husband’s enthusiastic support of the misguided Religious Freedom Restoration Acts he signed in 1993 and 2000. And you chose a devout Catholic as your running mate.

But if you really were reflexively pandering to the Catholic bishops, I don’t think Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood would have been the featured speaker she was on this night. And, frankly, your running mate, Tim Kaine, has not kowtowed to the bishops on reproductive rights. So it can’t be that you are controlled by religious leaders in the way much of the Republican Party is at this stage in history. You can see beyond their religious identity to what is right and good for the country as a whole. You can stand up against religious factions that harm women and children. (It doesn’t make you anti-religion in any event, given the recent spate of religious leaders who are taking the side of the victims, as I discuss here.) At least that is the person I heard when I read your 1973 article and who materialized at the Convention.

So, as an advocate for child sex abuse victims across the United States, I ask you—what will you do as President of the United States about child sex abuse to stem the pain, to increase justice, and to ultimately reduce this billion-dollar burden on our healthcare system? There are millions of Americans who deeply care about your answer to this question.

Sincerely,

Marci A. Hamilton

  • tuckerfan

    I sincerely hope that other than use the bully pulpit to lend moral authority to their cause she will do nothing. Every one of the issues you discuss are criminal matters, and fall withing the responsibility of the State and local governments. As heartbreaking as the abuse is, the death of our Republic will be more tragic, because federalizing every aspect of life will inevitably lead to the demise of our way of life. The EU is an exceptional example of what you get when you strip every nation of its sovereignty, the demise of entire cultures, economic stagnation and the end of liberty, In parts of England it is now illegal to say anything that a woman might find annoying. President Clinton will have plenty to do, lets please leave the criminal code exactly where it is.

  • carmen

    It is not completely wild what the writer asks from H, since it is known that this type of crime has been so successful due to the complicity of people in very high positions …lawyers, judges, Police, Priests etc….kids deserve a champion on this…way too many young lives destroyed…just to please men. No one better than the President of a powerful country.

  • Frank Willa

    Professor, I am surprised by what in my view is an overly critical commentary. Its seems to me that you have not given Hillary Clinton fair treatment. You seem to be in “attack” mode without allowing a fair chance to address your concerns. There are a great many topics that need to be addressed, and a political convention can only discuss some, not all. Before launching this public critique in my view you should have contacted the Clinton campaign and asked for a response to issues you have cited herein. Also, rather than surmise that her position is that of the State Department without an opportunity to state her views for herself, and what the dynamics of the State Department were at the time, and how she saw that litigation at the time you have taken the position that she was “pandering”. Further, to ascribe the view of someone’s spouse as the same as theirs seems to me to be misguided and misplaced. You do finally ask what I view should have been done first before this public castigation. You want justice for the victims you represent, so I ask you was this commentary justice for candidate Clinton?

  • princess luna

    The Clintons can’t really provide any extraordinary support for any sort of abuse issues. To do so would draw immediate and unwanted attention to her husband’s long line of accusers, most of whom had been humiliated and shamed by Hillary in an attempt to cover and enable her husband. Now the press could help if they wanted to – just as they repeatedly will ask Trump’s daughters about their father’s treatment of women, the press could likewise ask Chelsea about her father’s treatment of women and what her mother ever did about it. Yes, the press could do that, but they won’t, because you see, it would draw such unwanted attention.

  • safecents

    She did a pretty good job getting a child rapist off when she was a lawyer. Surely you have heard the stories. And apparently when her husband had his way with women, whether consenstually or not, Hillary was right in Bill’s corner scaring them into silence. Bringing that subject into the light of day is not in her best political interest. Sorry.

    • tuckerfan

      She was the accused’s DEFENSE LAWYER, she was supposed to get him a favorable outcome. The scandal would be if she failed to represent her client to the best of her ability out of solidarity with the victim. Par of the price of liberty is living under the rule of law, and that means sometimes you won’t like the outcome because justice is messy.

      Likewise your probably feigned outrage that a wife supported her husband is banal.

  • LB

    It isn’t clear to me what Ms. Hamilton was hoping the convention would do differently. The goal of a national party convention is to officially nominate their candidate for office, and to present a message to the electorate of what how that candidate will advance the party’s platform, if elected. It is not to raise awareness of every cause in need of attention. Don’t get me wrong, Ms Hamilton’s cause is an important one, and I in no way mean to minimize the cause or the pain of the victims. But if her goal was for the party to to raise awareness: filling the convention stage with the parents of sexual abuse victims who died by suicide in the aftermath of their ordeal would be quite an image. It would unfortunately have been an image easily construed as a callous attempt to capitalize on the pain and suffering of these tragedies for the sake of votes. Which would hardly have advanced Ms. Hamilton’s cause, or Mrs. Clinton’s. And if, as she points out, the largest group of childhood sexual abuse victims are girls raped by their own family members, It would also have run the risk of some of the victims’ own rapists being included in that image.

  • Christy Pavano

    Marci, I’m glad I found you. Thank you for all of the work you are doing. Thank you for calling on Hillary and others to make this a priority in our country. I left my 24 year career last year to dedicate my life to this mission. I spent eight years navigating the legal system between the criminal case for the teacher who molested my daughter and the civil trial against the school district who allowed it to happen. I’ve learned so much about our justice system and our education system and I continue to learn each day. The statute of limitations is just one area that upsets me. I’m so thankful that you are working on reform and would love to help you.

  • Mark Belenchia

    Having a President who takes a stand on a issue is one matter. It’s my opinion that you are insinuating that Professor Hamilton is asking Clinton to intervene in to the justice system. She is merely asking her to have an opinion and to share that opinion. If you walked in her shoes and knew the struggles that existed in the survivor community just to reach some semblence of justice you might have a better understanding. Fighting the mighty RCC is a ‘tall hill to climb’.

  • Mark Belenchia

    Bert…. Professor Hamilton has been deeply involved in holding the RCC responsible for their huge part in the sexual abuse of children. The RCC is one of the oldest monarchial institutions ever known to man. It’s leadership (mostly old white men) has been doing whatever suited them for thousands of years. Having a women lawyer fight them relentlessly chaps their almighty a$$! Keep it up Marci. If the RCC is your form of Christianity then I’ll take the agnostic autonomous route…..

  • kmurphy

    After comments that the RNC was “dark”, she certainly wouldn’t take the chance of darkening the DNC. Beside, the limelight was on her; she didn’t want to share it with some pathetic kids. She is not the women she used to be, but is now only out for herself.

  • Really proud to read this Marci. You knocked out of the park. My faith is restored in your dedication to the big picture of youth abuse. When is your updated book going to be released and what is the title? I am interested to learn any new positions and points of views for the coming years. Brava! Alan Fountain