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Marquette Tribune Editorial: Child Victims Act needs to be passed third time around

December 1, 2011

The Marquette Tribune published the following editorial on December 1, 2011.

In a timely parallel to the recently revealed Penn State and Syracuse sexual abuse cases, two Wisconsin lawmakers have introduced a Child Victims Act – the third such bill attempted in recent years.

As the CVA hits the Wisconsin state legislature’s floor, we think the third time should be the charm.

The CVA, proposed by state Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) and Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay), would eliminate the statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases involving children, which currently requires victims to press charges before turning 35.

The proposed law would allow child abuse victims their lifetime to come forward with allegations, sometimes a necessary condition for victims dealing with the emotional, psychological and physiological ramifications of childhood sexual abuse. Eliminating the current statute of limitations gives victims as much time as they need to come forward and confront their abusers.

Previously a clause allowed a grace period of three years after the bill’s passage for current victims over the age of 35 who hadn’t reported the abuse before the current statute of limitations ended to come forward. The new version has cut that time down to two years. We think this is appropriate, allowing victims to come forward for a reasonable amount of time without causing chaos.

Critics argue the bill would violate the due process rights of the accused. While this is a valid concern, the statute of limitations already extends 17 years past when victims become legal adults at age 18, and thus further extending this window should not make a difference in a large number of cases.

Another concern is that government employees granted with sovereign immunity will not receive similar treatment under the law as private employees. However, this is a problem present with any criminal charge levied against government employees, not just child abuse cases, and cannot legitimately be included as an objection to the act.

Other opponents of the act, including institutions such as the Catholic Church, claim bringing up many old cases of child abuse presently outside the statute of limitations could potentially bankrupt organizations and institutions, which are often sued for neglect and have to pay large reparations to victims for counseling and damages.

The Catholic Church and other organizations may indeed have something to worry about if abuse victims are granted the right to come forward at any point in their lives. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed for bankruptcy in January, primarily due to over 100 claims of abuse made against clergy or church employees in the archdiocese. Some of those victims will be barred from pressing charges under the current statute of limitations, their cases never able to go to court. If such offenses “never happened,” institutions wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

If the CVA is passed, all victims over 35 years, including those with claims against the Archdiocese, would be given a chance to file claims against their offenders. While opening this window of opportunity may be controversial, we believe it is absolutely necessary in order to allow victims who were previously repressed or afraid to finally come forward and seek justice.

This bill is being introduced now for a reason. Particularly in the wake of the Penn State and Syracuse scandals and the numerous cases filed against the Catholic Church, sexual abuse against children cannot be shut out or ignored. It happens to thousands of children each year, and passing legislature to focus on and help victims can only facilitate the execution of justice.


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