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Statute of Limitations Hampers Reporting of Child Abuse Cases

Statute of Limitations Hampers Reporting of Child Abuse Cases

El Diario
By Camille Padilla Dalmau
April 28th, 2016

Translated from original Spanish article:

New York State laws do not allow for someone, once they reach 23 years of age, to report a case of sexual abuse that occurred when they were children, in what is known as ‘statute of limitations.’  This is something advocates and lawmakers want to change. And since April is child sexual abuse awareness month, they want to promote change so the many victims that remained silent for years can now achieve justice.

There are currently many initiatives that seek to change these restrictions. The first one is the Child Victims Act, which was introduced by State Assembly member Margaret M. Markey that would eliminate the statute of limitations for these cases. “Those who suffer child abuse go through a second abuse as adults by our archaic statutes of limitations in New York State that deny them justice,” said Markey.

The lawmaker said emphatically that current laws protect predators and put future generations at risk, “We have to change these laws this year.”

Besides that initiative, New York federal Senator Chuck Schumer added a provision in a law that he introduced this year, known as the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, that would also extend the statute of limitations so victims can report sexual abuses, sex trafficking and crimes related to child pornography.

When Fabio Cotza was a victim of sexual abuse by his landlord’s son, in the early 70’s, there were no services in New York City to which he and his family could turn to. In fact, Cotza didn’t admit to being molested until decades later because his attacker had threatened to evict his family if he said anything.

I try to learn from my personal experience and ask: What are some of the barriers that our families face?” said Cotza, the son of Italian immigrants.

And to help others that, like him, went through that terrible experience, Cotza joined the Safe Horizon organization a year ago and currently heads their Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in the Bronx, where he grew up.

In each county of the Big Apple there is a CAC that helps children that have suffered severe physical or sexual abuse to mitigate their trauma. The Bronx center was the last one to open in New York City.

The first CAC opened in Brooklyn in 1996. Its purpose was to have all the professional services needed to coordinate investigations of abuse under one room, including the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), detectives, doctors, supporting prosecutors and mental health experts. By having all these professionals together, victims don’t have to go through their stories more than once.

The ACS investigated nearly 55,000 cases of child abuse in 2015. Most of the cases examined by the city were cases of negligence, 3,000 were for alleged sexual abuse.

Many of the victims are Latinos.

Last year the Bronx CAC assisted more than 800 children, 51% of them were Latinos. The cultural and language barriers that the Cotza family faced are the same that Hispanic families face in New York.

“I am thankful to Safe Horizon for opening this Child Advocacy Center in the Bronx,” said Bronx County President, Rubén Díaz Jr., who visited the facilities last week as part of the child sexual abuse national prevention month.

Today some families, especially those composed of new immigrants, do not know their legal rights,” said Cotza, adding that “they are afraid of being deported and it’s difficult for them to ask for help.” But the centers assure that they don’t ask victims for their residence papers or proof of health insurance.

Who looks after your kids?

More than 80% of sexual offenders are non-strangers to the child’s parents. The city helps parents to identify quality daycare services in three ways:

  1. NYC Child Connect: Connects parents with licensed daycare centers in their neighborhood.
  2. Early Care NYC: Where parents can find daycare centers or a babysitter that can go to their home at a low cost or for free for eligible parents.
  3. Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies: ACS works with this state agency that also connects parents with licensed daycare centers and babysitters.

Believe them, support them and seek help

One out of every 16 children is sexually molested. Knowing what to do as soon as your son or daughter tells you about their abuse is extremely important.

Believe them, support them and seek help,” says Fabio Cotza. “Let us properly interview your child,” he suggested. The head of the Bronx CAC explained that sometimes children change their story when they feel threatened or scared.

An ACS spokesman said that anyone who thinks that a child is in imminent danger must call 911. “Parents and any New Yorker who thinks that a child is not safe, can file a report that leads to an investigation by the ACS (and it can be anonymous) when they suspect abuse or negligence by dialing 311,” he added.

According to the ACS, this is some of the information you will need:

  • Name and address of the child and their family;
  • Age, sex and first language of the child;
  • Characteristics and extent of child’s injuries;
  • Type of abuse and neglect including known abuse and neglect suffered by the child or any sibling;
  • Any additional information that may be of help.

For more information on how to file a report, click here.

Read the original article in Spanish here.