Governor Cuomo, The Children Are Watching
By Barry Goldstein
New York is home for over four million children. You are responsible for protecting them. Roughly a million of these children will become victims of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, unless you do something to prevent it. Today’s child victims, and tomorrow’s, are watching you.
Sexually abused children have to figure out how to gain protection. At least initially they must do this on their own. They may not understand fully what the predator did to them. Some wonder if they did something wrong and might face punishment. Sexual abusers often threaten to hurt the child or people they love if they ever reveal the abuse. They face a difficult and scary decision, so these children are watching you.
The literal purpose of the Omnibus Child Victims Act is to allow adults to press criminal or civil charges against their abusers. This gives survivors a chance to recover money from these horrific criminals and hold them accountable. But this bill also has a direct impact on the health and safety of children now. You said last session that you supported this bill, but ultimately you focused on other priorities. So now the children are watching.
Governor, our society has laws and policies that unequivocally oppose child sexual abuse, but practices that unintentionally promote it. Children rarely lie about sexual abuse, but we often err on the side to disbelieving children. The professionals who run our courts, law enforcement and child protective agencies tend to focus on the myth of frequent false reports of abuse, and routinely fail to protect children. One of Jerry Sandusky’s victims said he didn’t reveal Sandusky’s abuse sooner because he didn’t think he would be believed. Often it is more convenient to disbelieve children than to believe something difficult. We routinely misapply our “innocent until proven guilty” standard to mean that we cannot protect our children unless the perpetrator’s crime can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt with all the obstacles that must be overcome. And one of those obstacles is a Statute of Limitations that keeps most cases from coming to court. We must help children feel safe to tell us whatever the offender did to them. So the children are watching you.
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention shows that child sexual abuse is more common and more harmful than we want to believe. The suggestion we hear in many custody courts to “just get over it” cannot work. Children can be helped with therapy and accountability for their abusers, but not if they feel pressured to maintain silence. The harm from sexual abuse continues from the pain, guilt and anger victims must live with. Children cannot receive the necessary treatment and support if no one knows what the abuser did, or the children are not believed. Passing the Omnibus Child Victims Act will send a message to children that we want to hear them. It sends a message to offenders that the protections they have enjoyed are being removed. This is why the children are watching you.
Many of legislators and organizations opposing this bill are strong opponents of abortion. They probably don’t realize that sexual abuse and exposure to domestic violence leads directly to poor sexual decisions and more abortions. How can these legislators say abortion is so wrong they’ll violate women’s privacy rights, but remain unwilling to safeguard children in order to prevent abortion?
We have a lot of work to do to prevent child sexual abuse in NY. Law enforcement must aggressively prosecute the crime, regardless of who commits it. CPS caseworkers must be trained to believe children, and not to discredit claims made during custody disputes. Custody courts must stop outdated practices that allow alleged abusers to win custody 85% of the time when child sexual abuse is alleged, forcing attorneys to discourage clients from even mentioning the abuse. How can we prevent this unspeakable crime if you can’t even reform laws that help abusers escape accountability? Governor, this time you must use your leadership to make sure the Omnibus Child Victims Act is actually passed, because THE CHILDREN ARE WATCHING!