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Allegations of Sex Abuse by Former Chaminade High School President Put Spotlight New York's Lax Abuse Law

May 25, 2016

Allegations of sexual abuse brought by a former student at Long Island's Chaminade High School continue the spotlight on inadequacies in New York's sex abuse law.

The young man came forward in 2015 to say the school's former president, Father James Williams, had abused him in 2011. Because the alleged abuse, which Williams denies, occurred more than two years earlier, New York law did not allow the student to file criminal charges, the New York Daily News reports.

The statute of limitations barred the Nassau County district attorney from filing a sex abuse charge. Victims say the leniency in the law's statute of limitations for filing charges allows abusers to evade punishment.

The student-who has not been identified-is reported to have been 18 at the time of the abuse. He said he did not want to file a criminal complaint, even if the law permitted it, but he said felt that he and other victims should have a greater window for filing charges, if they choose to, according to the Daily News.

The district attorney says the conduct the student reported amounted to misdemeanor sex abuse under New York's law. The penal code includes three relevant sexually related misdemeanors, the Daily News reports. The first offense, forcible touching, is defined as someone "forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor's sexual desire." Second degree sexual abuse entails manually touching someone "who is incapable of consent" -for example, if the person is drunk. Third degree sexual abuse entails manually touching someone who does not want to be touched. In all three offenses, the common element is the unwanted touching committed by the abuser. These incidents often leave the victims with deep and lasting emotional and psychological scars. Recovery can be even more difficult when the victim is a child or teenager and the abuser is an adult in a position of trust or authority like a teacher, doctor, coach, or clergy person.

New York has eliminated the statute of limitations for other categories of sex crimes: rape in the first degree, forcible anal and oral sex, the insertion of objects into an orifice and two or more acts of intercourse or oral sex with a minor under 13 years old. But the leniency toward misdemeanor manual sex acts allows a predator who repeatedly molests a child under 13 to take advantage of a five-year statute of limitations that starts when the victim reaches 18. Many victims struggle to come to grips when a trusted adult betrays them, and often the victims do not find the strength and the support they need to come forward in time to file charges before the statute of limitations runs out.

The Daily News reports that in the Williams case, Chaminade and the Long Island Catholic diocese moved quickly to involve law enforcement and they appear to have conducted a thorough investigation. Williams was defrocked after an investigation by his priestly order found the charges against him credible, the Daily News reports.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey of Queens sponsored the Child Victims Act to reform the law. Abuse victims who have been unable to file criminal complaints because of the statute of limitations are pressing the New York legislature to pass the reform law and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign it. Under the current law, victims of childhood sexual abuse cannot bring civil or criminal charges against their abusers after they turn 23. That age limit is among the narrowest windows for abuse victims nationwide. Markey's bill would not only allow more time for victims to bring suits in the future, but would also grant a one-year window to file a civil suit to those for whom the statute of limitations had expired.

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