By Stephen Jimenez
First published in the New York Daily News
New Yorkers and people of good faith everywhere agree that the sexual abuse of children is among the most heinous of crimes. It is not a political or partisan “issue” – but a universal human concern with lifelong ramifications for all of us and our families and communities, especially our children.
Why, then, has this crucial issue been so neglected by the powers-that-be in our great state of New York? Why is our state plagued by one of the worst records in the nation when it comes to statute of limitations reform?
Sadly, New York ranks alongside Alabama and Mississippi, a potent reminder that the quest for civil and human rights must continue until our children are adequately protected – and all who were previously victimized are allowed to seek legal redress.
As a survivor of years of sexual abuse by a Xaverian teaching brother at Holy Name School in Brooklyn – from age 10 until nearly 14 – I was molested repeatedly in bathhouses, locker rooms, shower stalls, classrooms and other places. I have tried to seek justice for more than a dozen years from Catholic Chruch officials, including Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. Because I have been barred by the statute of limitations from filing a criminal or civil suit, I approached church officials directly, only to find the church staunchly opposed to the Child Victims Act, including its one-year “window” that would allow older victims like me to pursue claims.
For eight years, I have lobbied legislators in Albany as part of a broad coalition with other abuse victims and advocates. Recently, about 150 Jewish organizations have endorsed this long-derailed bill. While a number of ethical legislators support the bill, others have insulted victims by offering the same cheap platitudes I heard from some Church officials. To paraphrase them, “We’re sorry – but it’s just too late for you tell us how you were raped or assaulted by your teacher (coach, priest, relative, neighbor, etc.).”
Some opponents have used smears and fear tactics to suggest that New York abuse victims are “agenda-ridden,” and that our “real goal is to stick it to Catholics.”
Those words were used last week in a full-page ad in the Albany Times-Union by William Donohue, president of the Catholic League and a well-known surrogate for New York bishops. As a former altar boy who attended eight years of Catholic elementary school and graduated from Georgetown, the oldest Catholic university in the country, I find these tactics morally despicable. If anything, my Jesuit professors taught me the importance of fighting for justice and righting wrongs wherever and whenever they are found. Few injustices are as egregious as allowing the sexual abuse of children to go unaddressed in our legislature and courtrooms.
We, victims and survivors, call on New Yorkers of all backgrounds and faiths to support the Child Victims Act. Please contact Governor Cuomo and your lawmakers in the State Senate and Assembly now, during the current legislative session, and let them know your views on protecting children from predators and pedophiles. Ask the elected District Attorney in your county – as well as presumptive presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – to take a clear stand now. Again, protecting children has nothing to do with partisan politics.
If we fail to pass this bill in New York, the repercussions for our children and families will not only continue, but this abomination will forever stain the legacy of our Empire State. As Pope Francis stated during his 2015 visit to the U.S.: “The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret.”
The Pope pledged a “zealous vigilance” and “the promise of accountability for all.” He was talking not only about Catholics but all abuse victims. And he delivered a stern message to legislators in Washington that must also be heeded in Albany: “You are the face of (the) people … called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good.”
Please remind state legislators like Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco that protecting children from predators is not another item on their political checklists that can be shunted aside for another year – or another ten years. Tell them to listen to victims and survivors whose lives and families have been damaged irreparably, not to the smarmy whispers of well-paid lobbyists or the fear-mongering of William Donohue.
The time has come, fellow New Yorkers. The time is now. Thank you for your support in our long struggle. The Child Victims Act is not only our last and best hope – it’s our only one.
Protect Kids, Not their Rapists
Stephen Jimenez is a survivor of a serial sex abuse and an award-winning journalist and author. He can be reached at [email protected] .