By Anna Correa and Neda Karimi
Four candidates for state senate, including Suffolk County Legislator Lou D’Amaro, and child sexual abuse survivors advocated for democrats that would help pass the Child Victims Act during a rally last Thursday, Oct. 4, at Brentwood State Park.
Passage of the Child Victims Act would eliminate the statute of limitations set for victims to report their abuse which bars them from proceeding with their cases once they turn 23. Survivors and candidates urged voters to push out Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), and other Republican candidates after allegations that they have consistently blocked passage of the legislation for years.
Senate Candidate Kathleen Cleary challenged Flanagan’s aversion to the bill, indicating that many child victims hesitate to report their abuse until later in life.
“They are afraid people won’t believe them, or they’re silenced by their abusers,” Cleary said at the rally. “I cannot understand why he is not allowing victims the chance to bring their accusers to court.”
Extending the time period victims would have to bring criminal charges or civil claims to their abusers is long overdue, D’Amaro said. Challenging Senator Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) in Long Island’s most competitive senate race, D’Amaro is inspiring hope for many victims whose representatives vote against their interests.
“The reason for [the act] is that often victims of abuse don’t easily deal with or reconcile themselves with the abuse,” D’Amaro said. “It takes many many years to come to terms and speak up about their history of abuse. This statute recognizes that and will allow those victims an opportunity to finally get the justice they deserve.”
While this movement has supporters across New York State, Suffolk County plays a pivotal role in this year’s midterm elections. It is dominated by Republican senators, including Flanagan, who represents New York’s second district, and Boyle, who represents District Four.
As the midterm elections draw closer, Gary Greenberg, a survivor of childhood sexual assault and longtime advocate of the Child Victims Act, is holding rallies across New York State in an effort to flip the state senate. This is his tenth.
Flanagan’s track record proves he will never give justice to victims, Greenberg said, stating that the county can’t afford to have any more Republicans in support of the Senator. The small crowd of advocates and staffers voiced their aversion towards Flanagan, yelling “shame on him” and “bye bye Flanagan.”
“I ask the people of Suffolk County to consider our pain,” Greenberg said, “because when you’re sexually abused, you suffer.”
In response to opposition from victims like Greenberg, Senate Republicans created their own version of the bill called the Child Victims Fund. This version of the bill would allow victims to file claims where they seek reparations through civil court.
However, flaws persist, such as the fund’s exclusion of victims of institutions such as churches and schools. Some, such as the Diocese of Rockville Centre, have created their own compensation programs for victims offering financial settlements, though most institutions are unwilling to address the issue.
Child sexual abuse survivor Connie Altamirano explained that the disparity between the two approaches concerns parties involved. The fund addresses abuse from family and friends, while the act addresses abuse from institutions, she explained.
“In the best world, those two things would get attached and become one bill,” Altamirano said. “The Child Victims Act is really protecting people that are raped by priests and institutions, but has the one-year look-back window [allowing for a 1-year claim extension].”
For Altamirano, the passage of the Child Victims Act would give her the opportunity to seek justice for unfair treatment after reporting abuse from her step-grandfather. When her mother first reported the abuse, her pleas were ignored by both law enforcement officials and social workers.
Hoping that her case will be reopened, Altamirano stressed the significance of voting this election cycle. She continued to advocate for victims alongside Greenberg at a rally uniting those in support of the Child Victims Act Oct. 9 outside Senator Marty Golden’s (R-Brooklyn) district office.
“If the senators aren’t going to protect children or listen to us, then we need to vote them out,” Altamirano said.