New York’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes are the most restrictive in the country. Survivors have only five years after they reach legal age to file criminal or civil charges against their abusers. I know first-hand how inadequate this amount of time is; it took me a decade to share my story of clergy abuse with my family and more than 30 years to speak publicly about it.
My abuse occurred in 1980 in Johnstown, Pa., by Father George Koharchik, who was my teacher and coach. He was also a trusted friend of the family who had a weekly bowling game with my parents. His betrayal led me down a road of depression, drug addiction and attempted suicide. It made learning difficult and relationships hard.
I’m fortunate that I have been able to build a successful life — I’m married now and own a restaurant in Long Island City — but I know others that haven’t been so lucky. Many battle mental and physical illnesses and struggle to get the help they need.
The Child Victims Act rightly recognizes how difficult the healing process is by eliminating the reporting deadline and giving survivors of past abuse a one-year period to file claims. For more than a decade, survivors have been trying to get this legislation passed, which despite receiving broad support from victims, advocates, justice reformers and many legislators, is blocked time and again.
Senate Republicans must reconsider. These restrictions leave survivors without justice and help abusers go free. Just as abusive priests were moved from town to town with no warning to parents or parishioners, today most of these priests aren’t registered as sex offenders, even though investigators have termed them predators and the number of children they harmed is staggering.
While we are forced to wait for our laws to catch up, we must take other action so that the perpetrators of these crimes become known and can be stopped.
This year, clergy abuse survivors in New York have a small window of opportunity to report their abuse and they must seize it. The Archdiocese of New York, which encompasses Manhattan, The Bronx, Staten Island and several surrounding counties, has established its own compensation plan, separate from the courts. It allows victims to register previously undisclosed claims against priests.
This window is only open until July 31, 2017, and I urge survivors to register for the program before it’s too late.
The Archdiocese of New York is the second-largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States. If the program is successful here, it could set a precedent for the rest of the country and New York can be a model that encourages the church to establish similar plans in other states.
Registration doesn’t mean acceptance of compensation and it doesn’t have to be made public. It simply keeps the door open for future discussions. While this program doesn’t absolve the Church of what happened, I believe that as more survivors speak up, it will be harder for the Church, and lawmakers, to ignore us. We must use every avenue available to hold our abusers accountable while we are prevented from using the courts.
From my own experience, I know the long and difficult healing process for survivors of child sex abuse, which is only compounded by the lack of legal recourse and inability to bring our abusers to justice. It’s a journey that never ends and one that should not, and cannot, be timed against a clock. Lawmakers need to commit to supporting survivors and pass the Child Victims Act.