by Paul Mones, guest opinion
Tuesday June 02, 2009, 8:30 AM
Our state legislators are in the midst of dealing with one of the worst fiscal crises in recent memory. No doubt they will have to make many tough, unpopular decisions this year. However there is one legislative decision they need not fret over because it is a no-brainer. House Bill 2827 is a simple piece of legislation that gives an extra measure of justice to victims of child abuse.
In the words of one of the bill’s co-sponsors Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego ) – the other sponsor is Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany) – this bill "will ensure an effective civil remedy for victims of child abuse."
The bill extends the present statute of limitations by giving victims until the age of 40 to file an action against their abuser, requiring that claims be initiated by the time the victim turns 40 years old or within five years of when the injury or the connection between the abuse and the injury is discovered. The bill has unanimously passed the house but curiously has not received the same overwhelmingly positive reception in the Senate.
The extension of the statute of limitations makes common sense because it recognizes that most child victims of sexual abuse cannot confront their debilitating problems until they are mature adults. Moreover, most victims can’t even make the connection between the abuse and their psychological problems until they have some real distance from the time period of their abuse.
Child abuse is the perfect crime because its victims are too powerless, too confused to help themselves when they are actually being abused. These children travel quietly through their days interacting with teachers and passing police officers, friends and neighbors, never revealing the anguish of their existences. And if by chance someone asks them how they are being treated at home their responses will be uniformly the same: OK.
As adults we expect all human beings to escape or at least want to escape when someone injures them, but for victims of abuse, the reverse occurs. And that is in fact perhaps one of the most insidious aspects of child abuse: It binds the child closer to the abuser. The abuser’s threats and intimidation engender in the child not only fear but self-blame and embarrassment – all of which turns a child’s survival mechanisms topsy-turvy. Emotional attachment and sexual violence become so inextricably confused that even when the abuse is reported, the child will often kick and scream as they are being removed from their draconian environment by a social worker.
The other aspect that makes child abuse a perfect crime is that most adults continue to believe that child-rearing is a private matter. They don’t want a relative, friend or neighbor telling them how to raise their child so they won’t intervene in someone else’s family. While we all cherish our right to privacy, our devotion to this cornerstone of democracy is strangling the lives of thousands of children every year. Abusive parents and caretakers thrive on isolation and that is exactly what their relatives, friends and neighbors give them.
Daily, people turn a blind eye to the screams, bruises and frightened eyes of battered and molested children. Their reaction actively reinforces the offender’s omnipotence and tells the child you’re on your own, no one is going to help you. By powerful social training we are more likely to intervene on behalf of a dog being kicked by its owner than a child being mistreated by a parent. As Americans we routinely gawk at the suffering of car accident victims but we avert our eyes and ears when we see a child being backhanded in a supermarket.
It is often only when a child becomes a mature adult that he or she has the strength and emotional resources to confront the scourge of their past.
We have done much in Oregon over the past few years to protect victims of abuse, the most recent example being the passage of HB 2062, which will prevent schools from silently moving sexually abusive teachers one district to another. If the Senate saw fit just several weeks ago to join the House in ending the scandalous practice of allowing sexually abusive teachers from negotiating sweetheart deals with their school districts, then it surely should see the wisdom in HB 2062.
Paul Mones is an attorney and a children’s rights advocate.