The first time I spoke publicly about my sexual abuse as a young adult was May 20, 2003. It was late in the day in Albany, and only two legislators remained at the hearing for my story.
Its a terrifying moment when you open yourself up, as most victims know, and I shook throughout my testimony, despite being determined to share my truth.
I called for the resignations of any and all leaders who helped cover up the sexual abuse of children and teenagers not seeking any retribution for myself, but in the hopes that I somehow might be able to protect other young people from the horrors I faced. I asked to bring these sexual predators to justice, and to bring forth legislation that would give victims their day in court and shine a spotlight on those hidden sexual predators who remain in our communities.
That was 15 years ago.
Every year since, Ive made annual trips to Albany to advocate for the passage of the Child Victims Act. But I have never even seen it come to the floor of the state Senate for a vote. That is shameful.
The Child Victims Act would allow child sex abuse victims until the age of 28 to pursue criminal charges against their perpetrators, and until 50 for civil charges. Evidence shows victims typically dont bring claims against their abusers until they are well into adulthood, often after they turn 40.
As I know all too well, most individuals are not ready to confront the trauma that comes with sexual abuse by the time they are 23 which is the age current New York law has set for survivors of child sex abuse to file criminal and civil claims.
Most importantly, this bill creates a one-year window for victims to bring forth their previously unaddressed claims. This opens the courthouse doors to victims and brings justice to those who prey upon our most vulnerable.
Over the years, Ive spoken to dozens of legislators and their staffs. Ive worked with Assemblywomen Margaret Markey (now former) and Linda Rosenthal, and state Sen. Brad Hoylman, who have led the fight for justice. Ive joined other courageous survivors and advocates throughout New York State in telling their stories and relentlessly pushing the Legislature to pass the Child Victims Act. Yet, weve continuously come up short.
I think this year is different. It is clear to everyone there is one hurdle standing in the way of the passage of this bill: the state Senates majority leader, John Flanagan.
Flanagans objection is unclear: He has dodged questions for years and has refused to meet with survivors and advocates. For a bill that has such strong bipartisan support in the Assembly passing 139 to 7 in a vote last year it remains a mystery why Flanagan continues to side with sexual predators.
However, 2018 is a new year, and the previous conversation surrounding sexual assault and abuse has changed. Since I began telling my story, thousands of sexual abuse victims have since come forward and said me too I, too, was sexually abused as a child. They were abused by family members, coaches, teachers, members of the clergy, loved ones and countless other predators.
Over the past several months I have been to the offices of Republican state senators in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island with my fellow survivors and advocates, and have been met with empty rhetoric and blanket statements of support for protecting the children of New York. One would think during a time when these brave individuals across our country are coming forward and telling their stories our elected officials would act accordingly.
I remain hopeful that this will be my last year of trying to persuade New York State legislators to pass the Child Victims Act.
Last month, Gov. Cuomo included the plan in his 2018 executive budget, demonstrating once again his leadership in shaping New York as a progressive leader of this country. Editorial boards including the one at this very publication have voiced the necessity and support for the bill. New Yorkers in every corner of this state are making it clear that we will no longer tolerate hidden sexual predators in our communities.
Sen. Flanagan, its time to stop protecting predators. Its time to finally protect New Yorks children.
Hoatson is a former Catholic priest, president and co-founder of Road to Recovery and member of New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators.