Editorial

Pass the Child Victims Act now

Posted

The Horace Mann School’s approach to child abuse by its own faculty members has been more like that of a cutthroat Wall Street firm than a caring educational institution.

Many of the dozens of victims who suffered at the hands of educators from the 1960s to the 1990s were too traumatized to inform the administration at the time of the crimes.

Those who did were often strongarmed into staying quiet.

Once a 2012 article in The New York Times showed the shocking extent of the abuse, survivors who came back to their alma mater seeking closure were treated to disdain and paltry offers of compensation.

The state’s draconian statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases has only worsened things for victims at Horace Mann and other schools.

Under the current law, children who suffer sexual abuse have just five years after they turn 18 to sue their tormenters in civil or criminal court. Yet one of the salient features of child sexual abuse is that it can take many years for victims to acknowledge what happened to them.

For the survivors at Horace Mann — many of whom only felt able to come forward after discovering there were others in the same shoes — the current statute of limitations hasrobbed them of justice.

Instead of a chance to put those of their abusers who are still alive in prisons where they belong, the victims are left to suffer with the knowledge that their tormenters got off scot-free.

Further, state law allowed Horace Mann to get away with halfhearted apologies and no guarantee it would make real reforms to protect students. Survivors whose lives were destroyed by the abuse were left to accept whatever settlement offers their alma mater deigned to offer.

Along with weakening the justice system itself, the current statute of limitations has the outrageous effect of giving schools like Horace Mann an incentive to cover up abuse. Instead of taking swift action to protect students whenever abuse comes to light, schools like Horace Mann can hide the truth until victims are too old to do anything about it.

This sad state of affairs must change before more abusers are empowered to torment children.

The Child Victims Act would eliminate the statute of limitations and enable victims to come forward any time after the crime. The law would also create a yearlong window for past victims to seek justice in court. Reliable sources say about 30 victims did not settle with Horace Mann, meaning the school’s day of reckoning could come if the legislation passes.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Jeff Klein took the right step in co-sponsoring the bill. Now it is up to them and their colleagues to pass the law and prevent a repeat of the kind of abuse so many children learning in our community once suffered.

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