RI lawmakers renew fight to remove statute of limitations on child sex-abuse lawsuits

RI lawmakers renew fight to remove statute of limitations on child sex-abuse lawsuits

PROVIDENCE – The battle over legal liability has begun anew – and more specifically, Who should pay – For child sexual abuse, the Rhode Island Catholic Church, the state’s insurance lobby and the ACLU sided with those who say they were victims.

Rep. Carol McEntee has renewed her campaign for a complete repeal of the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits against pedophiles and the institutions that protect them, what is similar Main did.

And he did so while a legal test of the state law was still winding its way through state courts.

The The bill (H 5510) is not specific to any occupation or institution, But most of those who spoke at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday night, or sent written accounts of sexual abuse they said they suffered as children, were blamed. Pastors – living and dead – in Rhode Island, Maine and Boston.

And again, McEntee’s sister, Ann Hagan-Webb, a licensed psychologist who specializes in working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, told a shortened version of the story she told Rhode Island lawmakers over six years.

“I was sexually abused by a Catholic priest…kindergarten through seventh grade in West Warwick in the 50s and 60s. It ended over 50 years ago.”

“I recovered from real abuse.” But not completely. “Nightmares during Lent and some minor PTSD symptoms … that’s all that’s left. I hope I speak for a lot of people who can’t,” said Webb, who is now in his 60s.

More:Can the Diocese of Providence be sued for sexual abuse of clergy? The appeal argues that it was a misdemeanor

Rep. Carol McEntee after filing similar legislation in 2019.

Alleged victims share stories of abuse

Other alleged victims wrote to lawmakers, including Jeffrey Thomas, who identified himself as a 62-year-old “survivor of clergy abuse.” Rev. Brendan Smith, an Irish priest who was at Our Lady of Mercy Church in East Greenwich from 1965 to 1968. Smith returned to Ireland and pleaded guilty to 141 counts of sexual assault. He died in prison in 1997.

In her letter, Thomas recounted the impact the crush had on her adult life and her failed attempt to file a lawsuit in 2008. And he alleged “the Catholic Church had full knowledge of Brendan Smith’s pedophilia before sending him to Our Lady of Mercy Parish and School. East Greenwich, Rhode Island.”

Michelle Ross has spoken out about the devastating impact molestation had on her now-deceased brother David Ross.

Others followed. Still, Catholic Diocese spokesman Michael Killoch asked on Twitter why a news account of a hearing on a bill to allow old sex-abuse cases “focused only on the Catholic Church and allegations from decades ago,” and not? “Contemporary Allegations of Minor Sexual Assault

More on credibly accused priests: Complete List of Credibly Charged Clergy of the Diocese of Providence, Including Assignments

Catholic Church, ACLU again opposes bill

In his own letter to lawmakers, the Rev. representing the Rhode Island Catholic Conference. Bernard Healy states that “the statute of limitations… makes it possible to investigate claims and decide them fairly, while the facts are fresh, the memories vivid, and the relevant evidence still available… [while] Ensuring that long-past actions are not judged by contemporary standards.”

Echoing his argument, the ACLU of Rhode Island wrote: “Memories fade, and a person ceases to exist with no chance of recovery. Asking a person to defend themselves against such a lawsuit fifty years or more later. The reality is huge. imposes a challenge.”

The insurance industry warns lawmakers, citing current court cases

Francis O’Brien, the insurance industry’s chief state House lobbyist, assured lawmakers American Property Casualty Insurance Association “Hate violence against children,” “Believe offenders must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law” and “Support legislation that strengthens criminal sanctions against child sex offenders.”

But he sternly warned lawmakers against “interfering in a case and controversy currently before the Rhode Island Supreme Court” and using their powers in a way that “could have a disruptive effect on Rhode Island’s insurance market.”

More on the issue:At the State House, another emotional debate over the statute of limitations for sexual-assault claims

He cited an appeal pending in the state Supreme Court of a previous judge’s decision over the reach of a 2019 law that extended the deadline for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against those who abused them.

The new law extends the period from seven years to 35 years after the victim’s 18th birthday (or age 53). But it allows for a retroactive extension of that deadline only if they file a “criminal” case — not a “non-criminal” one.

In 2020, Superior Court Judge Nettie C. Vogel dismisses three priest-abuse lawsuits in 2020 Against the diocese and its leaders, the law defined “perpetrator” as the person who committed the abuse.

“Non-criminals” were those who may have caused or contributed to the abuse – even committed a crime for doing so – but could not be prosecuted retroactively under the law, Vogel determined.

The three alleged victims appealed to the high court, which heard arguments in early February on whether the Diocese of Providence could be defined as a “perpetrator” of child sexual abuse.

Decision pending.

For reasons too numerous to enunciateThe General Assembly should not take the pen out of the court’s hands – especially in situations where arguments have been heard and the parties are awaiting a decision,” argued O’Brien.

He said lawmakers should wait for the court’s decision and then change any provisions of the law the Legislature believes. [court] Misinterpreted or misapplied.”

Doing otherwise would expose insurers to currently “time-barred claims … in a wide range of situations where adults and children interact, from schools to medical professionals to sports clubs to churches to foster care … [for which] Exposures were never anticipated, premiums were never charged and insurers never set reserves,” he argued.

But Atty. Gen. Peter Neroha, on the other hand, called for the passage of the law to “allow more victims of child sexual abuse to hold their abusers accountable.”

Anticipating each argument, Webb told lawmakers during arguments for the 2019 “Annie’s Law” passed by state lawmakers in her name, “A compromise … [that] Failed to hold big criminals accountable.”

“RI is in the dark ages!” He wrote, describing the actions of other New England states— Maine, Vermont, Connecticut – To eliminate civil statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse or create what is called a “recovery window.”

Rep. Sherry Roberts made an impassioned plea to pass a second bill for mandatory minimum sentences for child abusers, Born out of her own decades-long battle to convict her ex-stepfather, 40 years later she reported his abuse to the police.

He pleaded guilty in November to second-degree sexual assault and was given a 10-year suspended sentence with probation.

His Law (H 5757) Will not allow a suspended or suspended sentence. First-degree sexual assault carries an initial 10-year sentence and second-degree sexual assault carries an initial 5-year prison term.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse … I can say with certainty that we have not enacted enough laws to adequately protect children from sexual abuse, nor have we made it easier for victims to get justice,” he told colleagues Thursday night.

He said it “took him a lifetime to figure out how to navigate the system,” but even then “criminals can get a simple slap on the wrist with a lesser sentence to avoid jail time. Make no mistake, this outcome is not justice.”

The ACLU was among the law’s opponents, arguing: “Approval of such a sentence would be an unfortunate step in this state’s efforts to promote criminal justice reform.”

This story replaces an earlier version that incorrectly referred to clergy in the title.

This article originally appeared in The Providence Journal: The bill would remove the statute of limitations on child abuse cases

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