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The Politics Of Child Abuse Reporting – OpEd

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Media coverage of the sexual abuse of minors has long been biased against the Catholic Church.

As virtually everyone knows by now, there is not a single institution in the nation where adults and minors interact on a regular basis that has not been rocked by sexual misconduct. Indeed, there is no institution in the nation where adults mingle with other adults that has not been touched by sexual improprieties. Why, then, the constant bias, especially regarding adults and minors, in reporting on this subject?

Take, for example, the Child Victims Act in New York State. This year, as in the past, there was an attempt to revise the law regarding the age at which alleged victims could bring suit. Few disagree with this objective. More controversial is the one-year window, the so-called “look back” provision: it would allow victims one year to file suit for alleged offenses that occurred at any time in the past.

From reading the newspapers, listening to radio news, and watching TV reporting, the average person would conclude that only the Catholic Church opposes the Child Victims Act. This is a lie. Many organizations have worked against this bill. They have done so precisely because of the inherent injustice attendant to the “look back” provision. Before naming these groups, consider why they object.

How can claims be fairly adjudicated in cases where the alleged offender, and the alleged victim, offer contrasting accounts about something that may or may not have happened decades ago? Indeed, the accused may be dead. Moreover, sexual offenses rarely take place in public, making moot the role of witnesses.

Statutes of limitation exist for a basic civil libertarian reason: They were crafted to protect the due process rights of the accused. They were not dreamed up by uncaring and unscrupulous parties looking to dodge the reach of the law.

So who else has been on record opposing the Child Victims Act? Orthodox Jews, the Boy Scouts, foster care agencies, insurance companies, and—most importantly—teachers unions.

Nowhere in America is child sexual abuse tolerated with greater impunity than in the local public school. When molesters are charged, they are often given a desk job, doing the kind of make-shift work that is itself a public rip-off; as we have seen in New York City, this can go on for years. Why? Because of pressure from the teachers unions.

Some journalists note that when proposed changes in the statute of limitations are made, the public schools, unlike the Catholic Church, remain on the sidelines. This is true. The reporters should say why. It is because the public schools are protected by state sovereign immunity statutes, legal measures that allow a short period of time, usually 90 days, in which to file suit. In other words, the proposed changes rarely apply to the public schools.

What about those instances when proposed changes explicitly apply to the public schools? That’s when the public school lobbyists kick into high gear, making the exact same arguments against the “look back” provision that the Catholic Church makes. So why don’t we hear about this? Because of media bias.

In 2017, the United Federation of Teachers and the New York State United Teachers spent over $1 million lobbying against the Child Victims Act. With the exception of WNBC-TV news, and a columnist from the Albany Times Union, Chris Churchill, no one in the media has mentioned this.

The New York Times, the Daily News, and the Times Union, as well as virtually all newspapers in the Empire State, have editorialized in favor of the Child Victims Act, and almost invariably they criticize the Catholic Church for opposing it. Orthodox Jews and the Boy Scouts are occasionally mentioned, but social service agencies and insurance companies never are. Most indefensible, the teachers unions are always given a pass.

This amounts to a cover-up by omission. The media have underplayed the principled reasons for opposing the “look-back” provision and overplayed the role of the Catholic Church in fighting it. It’s time the truth were told and politics were put aside.


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William Donohue

William Donohue

William Donohue is the current president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in the United States, and has held that position since 1993.

One thought on “The Politics Of Child Abuse Reporting – OpEd

  • April 12, 2018 at 1:02 pm
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    The “inherent injustice” against the church. I am clergy sexual abuse survivor, my life has been destroyed by this abuse, and the church knew this polygamous predatory pedophile was abusing boys for decades. I have lost $849,200 of income in the past ten years as a result of being disabled from the accumulated diagnostic outcomes directly caused by the sexual abuse.

    How many other institutions allowed abuse totaling over 4,000 cases in the US, and on a global basis in ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY COUNTRIES? All institutions should be held accountable, including the church. The only defense that has been offered in the settlement of 197 cases totaling $4 billion is “it will bankrupt the church”. Then so be it.

    From a legal perspective, this is nothing more than a personal injury matter. The church knew the abuse was happening, and they should be held accountable.

    Reply

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