“I’m not here looking for a quick buck,” says 39-year-old Michael DeSantis, who as a child was raped by many of the priests in his Colonie, NY parish. “I don’t want your dirty money. All I’m asking for is a day in court.”
Like many underage victims of sexual assault, Mr. DeSantis’ feelings of fear and shame kept him from talking about his experiences until years later. However, the statute of limitations in New York made it impossible for him to take on his rapists in civil or criminal court after he turned 23.
“I said, ‘Huh? What do you mean? You’re kidding me!’” Mr. DeSantis said of the day he learned from Albany prosecutors that he would be unable to hold the church or the priests accountable. “I mean, these guys are just going to get away with it?”
Mr. DeSantis has spent last 5 years working with New York Assemblywoman Margaret Markey to extend the statute of limitations for child victims.
“I used to think I was the only one. But the more we delve into this, everyone I talk to went through the same thing,” he said of his experiences.
Over 30 states still have statutes of limitations in cases of sexual assault, ranging from a few years to decades after the incident. In many cases, these arbitrary deadlines force prosecutors to make rushed decisions about whether or not to file charges. “If they miss it, they can’t bring the case, and that can certainly push them to move faster than people might expect,” said former federal prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa.
These inconsistencies from state to state have sparked tremendous controversy for their impact on the prosecution of Bill Cosby. Though Mr. Cosby has been accused of raping over 50 women dating all the way back to the 1960s, statutes of limitation on filing sexual assault charges have protected him from ever facing criminal repercussions.
For many victims of sexual assault, the chance to face their attackers in court can serve as an important part of the healing process. Mhora Lorentson, a victim of child abuse who, like Mr. DeSantis, was blocked from seeking legal action because of New York’s statute of limitations, describes watching “Law & Order: SVU” to vicariously experience victory over her abusers.
“It became important to me, because there was no way legally or publicly for me to accomplish that goal,” Ms. Lorentson said.
Statutes of limitations protect perpetrators of sexual assault by preventing some of the most traumatized victims from ever seeing their day in court. Is that really how we want our legal system to work?
Sources: Harwell, Drew, Danielle Paquette and Abby Ohlheiser, “Cosby case, filed just under the wire, spurs scrutiny of statutes of limitations,” The Washington Post, 31 December 2015.
McShane, Larry,”EXCLUSIVE: Pedophilia victims urge N.Y. to scrap statute of limitations on certain child sex abuse charges,” New York Daily News, 29 March 2016.