Time Is Right To Pass Bill Extending Statute Of Limitations On Child Sexual Abuse Claims

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Hartford Courant

28 April 2010

Susan Campbell

How low will they go, do you think?

How much deceit and intimidation will opponents of House Bill 5473 employ to make their case? House Bill 5473 extends the civil statute of limitations on seeking redress after the sexual abuse, assault or exploitation of a minor. The bill also sets strict rules on who may file a lawsuit, but opponents — including the Archdiocese of Hartford and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center — have pulled out the stops. Their strategy, so far, has included:

•Messages from the pulpits of Connecticut’s Roman Catholic churches urging parishioners to oppose the bill.

•A church bulletin insert that falsely called the bill discriminatory and blamed the whole thing on trial lawyers.

•Running that bulletin as a large newspaper ad.

•A full-page newspaper ad from a Catholic organization, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, with the headline, “Is It Fair That the Innocent Pay for the Guilty?” That, too, was riddled with inaccuracies about “pillaging the Catholic Church” and urging Catholics nationwide to “fight back!”

•E-mail sent by St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center officials to employees, urging them to contact their legislators to oppose the bill, including links for their respective representatives and senators.

One e-mail begins “Dear Employee,” and mentions the hospital’s past 112 years of providing service to the Hartford region. Both hospital and archdiocese are fond of revisiting their recent glorious past — the hospital for its attention to the poor, the church for its recent initiatives to forestall clergy childhood sexual abuse.But then there’s the past only slightly further back. Both entities might well be taking seriously their respective charges today, but what that has to do with the issue at hand eludes me. Moaning about church property is obscene in the face of the cries of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The e-mail contains no explicit threat, although one might wonder at the ethics of the potential intimidation of one’s workforce. In this economy, how many employees have the guts to refuse to jump through an employer-placed hoop?

Legislation like this is inevitable as we come to understand more about the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. The states of Maine, Alaska and Delaware have no civil statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases. Just Monday, Florida legislators — against similar ragged opposition — voted to eliminate the statute of limitations for both criminal and civil action for childhood sexual abuse.

Connecticut’s proposed bill is far more focused. It will destroy neither church nor hospital. It will, however, move some hurting people toward healing. This is the right bill, and the right time for it.

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