A Tale of Two Victims Trying to Stay Above Water While Pursuing Justice: Corey Feldman and Patty Fortney (And Her Sisters)

Posted in: Juvenile Law

According to a new UNICEF study, the United States ranks only 38th in the world on child well being. This is not surprising as we continue to treat children as collateral damage to the ambitions and demands of adults. The barriers to justice for child sex abuse victims – despite significant recent progress as you can see here – continue to be mind-boggling, as the following two stories illustrate.

Corey Feldman Battles Multiple Fronts as He Tries to Tell the Truth Without Being Destroyed in Hollywood

I was introduced to Corey Feldman on the Dr. Oz Show in late 2018. I heard the sincere desperation to be believed that I have heard in countless other victims’ voices across the United States. Dr. Oz, to his credit, was giving Corey what was in essence a gift: a space to be vindicated. Corey had said for years that he reported his abuser to the authorities in southern California when he was a teenager. Because he palled around with Michael Jackson, they had brought him in to get evidence on allegations Jackson had engaged in child sex abuse.

Corey hadn’t been abused by Jackson, but he told the police the name of his actual abuser. Like any American who believes that television’s obsession with crime and justice shows means there is real justice, he left the station confident they would arrest his perpetrator. Instead, there was dead silence. Nothing was done until the authorities told the public twenty years later that he’d never made a report. Corey was on Dr. Oz’s show in 2018, because he had found the video recording of his police report that they had given him 20 years earlier, and this was pure vindication.

Corey’s story is sadly typical. Family abuse and neglect led to sexual abuse outside the home. From a very early age, he was abused and neglected by his parents while they used his extraordinary talents as a child actor to support the family, as he details in Coreyography. He was later preyed on by a sexual predator on the movie lot, as was his best friend, who was also in the movie business, Corey Haim. Haim passed away 10 years ago. Both struggled with drug addiction, as so many victims of child trauma do.

Forces in Hollywood did not want Corey to tell his story, and he was threatened and stalked relentlessly online. CHILD USA honored Corey for his bravery at our Annual Awards Celebration November 2019. We were then attacked by the forces intent on silencing Corey. It felt to me like the bishops in the early days of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, who were fond of calling me names and trying to put me in “my place”; we couldn’t give in to them, because if we did, the truth would never be told.

For Corey, telling the truth meant making a documentary of his experience in Hollywood. He was, after all, from the film industry, with 18 number one motion pictures as a teenager including The Lost Boys, Goonies, Gremlins, and Stand by Me. The problem he faced was the one that silences so many victims: naming the perpetrators would subject him to defamation lawsuits from wealthy individuals, and he didn’t have the means to withstand such a legal attack. (As I argued here, I believe we need to amend the defamation laws to deter the use of this legal tool by sex abusers against their victims.) This was too risky for that very reason, and potential funders of the film and the insurance industry quaked.

This man is on a mission, though. He scraped together every cent he had, he did reality shows he hated to do, and he came up with a plan to finally unburden his soul and tell the truth to the public: Corey Feldman will name names in the premiere of My Truth: The Rape of Two Coreys on March 9, 2020, which will air at 11pm EST in a one-time, online showing globally. Tickets are available here. This has never been done before. Why only one time? Because that is all the insurance coverage he was able to afford, and no film is released without insurance. Frankly, he was only able to achieve this one-time showing coverage because an angel investor came through at the last minute.

Over the years, I have witnessed one survivor after another fight to get the truth out through the ridiculous barriers we build in this society. Corey is remarkable. Hollywood will owe him a debt of gratitude, because it is far behind the curve on child protection.

The Fortney Sisters Fight for Justice as the Catholic Church Moves Around the Chess Pieces

The five Fortney sisters were sexually abused by a priest in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, diocese. While Pennsylvania has the most grand jury reports on child sex abuse anywhere in the United States, it also has had some of the worst statutes of limitations (SOLs) until recently. It has been an excruciating combination of public knowledge and blocked justice. In a particularly cruel move in 2019, the state passed a bill that would permit a window only if a state constitutional amendment were passed. The only recent good news for the survivors is that longtime insurance industry and bishops’ ally, Sen. Joseph Scarnati, is retiring.

The good news for some of the Pennsylvania victims, however, was that neighboring states, New York and New Jersey, opened revival windows in 2019. If a victim was taken by the perpetrating priest from Pennsylvania into either of these states, there is a strong argument they can sue for the damage done to them. Thus, even though Pennsylvania has wrapped victims in legal hijinks, some do have a shot at real justice now.

Patty Fortney and her sisters fought like hell for window legislation in New Jersey and in Pennsylvania. They were not interested in the compensation program that the diocese set up. When New Jersey’s window opened, they filed their lawsuits there against the Harrisburg diocese. Finally, they would have the legal leverage to get full discovery from the diocese and they could be vindicated and validated.

Then the Harrisburg diocese announced its bankruptcy last week. What a lovely surprise that was! While the Fortney sisters were battling bravely for justice on two state fronts (on their own dime), and the bishops were successfully pressuring Pennsylvania lawmakers to slow down the train of SOL reform to protect their assets, Harrisburg was busy moving around assets as it separately incorporated its holdings. It now argues that it has a mere $1-10 million in assets, because everything else that it would otherwise own is now part of some trust or other. The Trustee involved has suggested the actual value is $150 million; the victims will be treated to the legal wrangling that can last years over the actual value.

The focus of a federal bankruptcy is always on the entity, not the creditors, and due to the bankruptcy structure, as I discussed here in the context of the Boy Scouts, now their claims get to be thrown into one pot and the odds of getting full discovery or a fair settlement decline.

I so deeply respect the Fortney sisters’ fortitude and their willingness to repeatedly go out on a limb to help all victims. And I am particularly disgusted by this latest tactic.

Lawmakers everywhere: if you’re not on the side of the victims, you’re on the side of the abusers and their enabling institutions. That is a fact.

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