The facts speak for themselves. We are starting to catch up to justice for the child sex abuse and adult assault victims from the past. There are two sets of such victims in this culture—the ones who have been shut out of the system because the statutes of limitations (SOLs) were unfairly short and the ones who will benefit from a kinder and fairer system as SOLs for child sex abuse and adult sex assault are extended and eliminated. We have been making strong progress for the current victims to be able to live in a victim-centered justice system where they won’t have to hear a lawyer say to them: “Your claim has expired. Sorry.” The battle for the victims who were already locked out of the courthouse has been more difficult, but 2019 is the year the dam broke.
This year, the child victims from the past triumphed in seven new states. Next year, we expect at least a dozen states to move forward for these forgotten victims as well.
So what happened?
Political scientists will tell you that it takes several streams coming together at once to create a mighty movement. The streams that combined to make child sex abuse victims’ right to justice emerge were: the steady education of the public about institution-based and family-based sex abuse; the internet magnifying and unifying the voices of the victims and their advocates into a movement; and, in turn, that movement delivering a strong kick to the pedestals of those who were keeping sexual abuse secret including clergy of all stripes, university officials, sports organizations at all levels, schools, traffickers, and parents. As the power differential shifted and the system began to give the victims the respect they deserve, the arguments for justice became too forceful to ignore.
Thus, 2019 is the beginning of the end of the blockade that kept victims down. We are far from done, of course. There are more states where we will need to battle for SOL reform, but it is just the beginning.
Looking toward 2020, this is what else is needed for the victims of child sex abuse
- It’s time for all attorneys to pitch in for the civil rights of children and help with these cases being opened up by SOL reform. Personal injury attorneys, especially the ones that advertise heavily, are focusing on institution-based abuse, and to their credit they are making awesome strides. But many victims have a viable claim against an individual (like a teacher, father, or sibling) and these lawyers cannot help them. This is a moment Big Law could fill the gap by having associates take the smaller cases pro bono and help the victims navigate the process. In addition, local attorneys and family attorneys should start considering these cases more seriously. Opportunities are only going to grow over the next decade.
- Many child sex abuse victims are not permitted access to the investigative record of their assault. That is ridiculous.
- Child and adult sex assault victims have been kept silent not only by the SOLs, but also by the defamation laws. It’s time to amend every state’s defamation law to create an exception: if a sexual perpetrator files suit against a victim and loses, he or she must pay treble damages for the sex abuse or assault and attorney’s fees.
- The family court system is in crisis across the United States as abusing parents are being given custody to their child victims by misinformed judges and a system that has misguidedly valued “keeping the family together” ahead of protecting a child from abuse. This calculus must be changed so that the potential for abuse blocks custody, especially unsupervised custody.
- The states need to mandate the insurance industry cover child sex abuse in liability policies, require annual child protection policy audits for youth-serving organizations, and force the industry to disclose the massive amount of data it surely has on child sex abuse.
- For the victims who cannot benefit from a civil lawsuit, there need to be fund pools set up to provide therapy. This is something again the insurance industry needs to help with. It could be modeled on flood insurance state pools.
Yes, we need everyone in the United States to come together to stop this plague of child sex abuse. That means every institution, industry, leader, politician, and citizen needs to do their share.
Happy New Year!! In 2020, we will change the world for children.