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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Issue of the Week: Let Child Victims Sue

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A bill to allow adult victims of child sex crimes sue their abuser has been introduced in the state Legislature yet again. Although it is championed by four Democratic lawmakers—Julie Lassa, Sandy Pasch and Lena Taylor in the state Senate and Chris Taylor in the state Assembly—it deserves a robust debate and vote in the Republican-led Legislature.

Like earlier versions of the Child Victims Act, it would remove the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits brought against sex assault and rape cases involving children. The current limit—age 35—is arbitrary and is unfair to those who find the courage later in life to face their accuser in court. Lifting this limit for two years would not only allow victims to achieve some sort of justice, but it would help to identify predators who abuse additional children. Those predators are typically family members or family friends who have access to vulnerable children.

It would be unfortunate if politics got in the way of justice and Republican leaders or powerful special-interest groups blocked this bill. In the past, the Catholic establishment lobbied against the legislation because it would cost the church too much money to defend its clergy from civil lawsuits. Then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan—now the cardinal of New York—testified against the bill because it would push the church “to the brink of bankruptcy.” Prior to becoming a U.S. senator, Ron Johnson, a Lutheran, testified against the bill to show his support for the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. Like Dolan, Johnson was more concerned with money than justice.

But we have to ask: What is the true value of justice? And shouldn’t child sex abusers be held accountable for their actions?

We are seeing the ugly legacy of child sex crimes in the documents released by the Milwaukee archdiocese last week. Faithful Catholics are among those appalled and outraged by the crimes and the cover-ups they reveal. As painful as it is, the truth must come out for healing to begin, no matter who the perpetrator is. Allowing adult victims of child sex crimes to face their abusers in court is one way that we as a society can hold these predators accountable for their crimes.