Marci A. Hamilton has penned a strong argument in favor of eliminating the statutes of limitations, or SOLs, in place in nearly every state in the county, limitations that inequitably favor sexual predators and discount the survivors of child sexual abuse. In Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children, Hamilton champions the cause of the survivors and puts in blatantly honest terms how America is failing her children and what we must do to set things right.
Hamilton lays out her argument first by citing how America's system of justice - if in this respect "justice" is the right term - favors the sexual predator and neglects the needs of the abused to have their day in court. SOLs, she states, actually inhibit the ability of the abused to bring their abuser before the courts for prosecution and punishment by setting unreasonable limitations and restrictions on how and when cases must be presented.
The current SOLs are a perversion of the spirit of justice, she seems to argue, and that like murder, child sexual abuse cases should not be fettered by SOLs at all. It may be months, years, or in some cases decades, before the victim is able to come forward to talk about the crime or before the crime, through other means, may come to the attention of those charged with the responsibility of prosecuting the offenders on behalf of the victim, and society as a whole. At present, she proposes, child sexual abuse cases are still treated more like issues involving property rather than people, when they are in fact the murdering of one's childhood or the victim's soul.
Hamilton also challenges the ever-present falsity that childhood sexual abuse is somehow not a nationwide crisis. She is adamant that abuses by "strangers," as many children are taught to be wary of, constitute but a small portion of sex crimes against children. She argues that, in fact, the secretive incestuous acts occurring within many families has spilled out into society to much greater levels, with acts of sexual abuse being perpetrated by those whom children are taught to trust the most: clergy, educators, family friends, coaches. The church sanctuary - the author particularly citing the now well-known sexual abuses perpetrated by priests within the Roman Catholic Church and the failure of its hierarchy to effectively address the problem among their own – is now no longer sacred, nor is the sanctuary of one's family, where a predator or multiple predators remain unvetted and largely unaccountable for their actions.
Hamilton argues that the insurance industry, defense attorneys, church hierarchies, teachers and their unions, and an astonishing high level of public ignorance are largely to blame for the yet-standing SOLs, these groups arguing vehemently against their abolishment, disfavoring the child victims. Hamilton points out that the ACLU "rarely ever takes the side of the child" in such cases, more often championing the protection of the predator's civil rights over the interests of the abuse survivor. Hamilton warns, however, that there is a coming civil rights movement on behalf of child sexual abuse victims, and that it's imminent.
A destructive imbalance exists with respect to the SOLs under which child sexual abuse cases are prosecuted, for the few that ever get into court. The imbalance exists between the victims’ need to process the abuse and gain the strength and courage to come forward, all while the clock is winding down with respect to the law. The abused are often frustrated by the laws of their own states as well as federal limitations. Discovery rules, though a blessing to a very few victims, only frustrate those unable to move quickly after recognizing that the negative attitudes and behaviors hindering their personal growth and success actually stemmed from the abuse they suffered as a child. Once they "discover" this, make this connection between the abuse and their addiction - joblessness, etc. - the clock ticks even faster. All too often victims are forced to cope with the public ramifications that often accompany the prosecution of sexual predators before the victims are emotionally prepared to do so. The predators are aware, on some level, of this disparity between discovery and successful prosecution and use it to their full advantage.
Hamilton's argument is sound. SOLs (statutes of limitations) related to child sexual abuse cases must be eliminated. Harsher penalties against predators are needed, and initiatives with the power to produce real results in favor of victims must be formed. The present-day programs - GPS tracking of offenders, sex offender registries, and pedophile-free zones - seem good on the surface and may provide some very limited aid to the public and authorities in policing the movements of known predators. They unfortunately do little against the larger population of sexual offenders who remain unknown. Hamilton also suggests that greater accountability is needed to ensure that mandated reporters are reporting as they should and that background checks are thoroughly done.
Public policy initiatives are another way to curb the growing tide of sex crimes against children and the ability of predators to reoffend. First, the system must be reworked so that the needs of survivors becomes a priority. Second, there must be a more concerted effort to identify predators. Third, survivors of abuse effected by the same perpetrator against many victims should be diligently sought. Fourth, deterrences must be put in place to deal with institutions who know about and work to conceal child sexual abuse. All these things require time, something current SOLs don't grant an abundance of.
It will take the revamping of state and federal legislation in order to ensure child sexual abuse survivors are protected and that their search for justice is not in vain. Legislators will face tough opponents to such efforts. Hamilton's argument is a viable one that needs be shouted from the rooftops. If she is right and a children's civil rights movement does come about, predators and their enablers, as well as secretive church hierarchies, the ACLU, defense attorneys, predatory teachers and the unions that defend them blindly, as well as the insurance industry with the largest financial stake in preventing the abolishment of SOLs, will be forced to take notice that the days of SOLs are be numbered. Here's hoping that legislators are listening and that Marci Hamilton is successful in getting SOLs eliminated so that other survivors can throw open the courthouse doors, once locked, and see that justice isn't dead, nor blind, but that it was only sleeping.