Friday, March 02, 2007

Child sex abuse survivors seek justice

Child sex abuse survivors seek justice
By Ron Cassie
The Examiner - Mar 2, 2007 3:00 AM

Annapolis - Childhood sexual abuse victims testified before the Senate Judicial Committee Thursday, describing their painful stories to legislators while pleading for change in the civil statute of limitations for filing claims against their predators.

In Maryland, there is not a criminal statute of limitations against filing felony child sexual abuse charges, but there is a limitation on filing civil claims ” seven years after victims reach 18 years old.

Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, introduced the bill that would allow victims to file civil claims until Dec. 31, 2008. Before a suit could be filed, victims would be required to convince a state licensed mental health practitioner familiar with their circumstances and an attorney that they have a credible case before a suit could move forward.

The questions I hear most often, is ˜How come it takes so long to come forward, said Francis Bacon, of Howard County. It's a shame. I'm 72 and I'm finally coming forward. I was 14 years old when I was abused.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican from Cecil and Harford Counties, told Dick Dowling, director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, who testified against the measure, that with all due respect to Dowling and the Catholic Church, she's have to part company with them on this.

Other Catholics, such as Tom Dembeck, who said he was abused by a priest at Calvert Hall High School, and Helen Daly, of Towson, who said she was raped as a girl by a Loyola Jesuit priest, spoke of the need to hold people and institutions accountable for their actions.

Others stressed that this was not only a Catholic issue, and the church is not named in the legislation. Vicki Polin of The Awareness Center, a Baltimore-based Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, said, "Pedophilia has no religion."

Jeffrey Dion, director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association, said it's important to provide victims their day in court and allow them to seek compensatory damages for therapy and other considerations. But, Dion said, it is equally important to extend victims the legal means to gather information though the court system discovery process and look at relevant documents from religious or other organizations.

Victims said they hoped by opening the window on the statute of limitations and the possibility of filing of new claims, future generations could be spared.

"This is truly one of the only protections our children have," Murray Levin, 64, of Baltimore, told legislators. "If you haven't been sexually abused, you can't understand the level of shame. How do you put a time limit on when we are supposed to come forward?"

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