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

Posted in: Politics

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.


Marci A. Hamilton