We are well into the one-year grace-period (which started on August 14) of New York’s Child Victim’s Act (“CVA”). Victims of childhood sexual abuse of any age can, during this one-year window, sue their perpetrators and those who facilitated the sexual abuse through negligence or worse. More than 600 CVA lawsuits have already been filed. New York childhood sexual abuse lawyers, myself included, have received thousands of calls and emails from victims.
I have been surprised by the many calls I have received from those abused by teachers. Some schools, it turns out, were sexual abuse “clusters”. For example, Kenmore West High School in Buffalo has been in the news for the large number of CVA suits (31) filed against it. Maryvale Union Free School District and Niagara Falls School District also are sexual abuse clusters.
Sexual abuse clusters are the product of what I call a “culture of silence”. A perpetrator cannot rape so many children alone. He needs a culture of silence to surround and insulate him from detection. What do I mean by a culture of silence? It’s a “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude about sexual abuse. It’s a kind of “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” even when the evil perpetrated is against children.
Most of the sexual abuse described in the recent CVA lawsuits happened back in the 90’s, 80’s, 70’s or even 60’s. The zeitgeist then was the culture of silence. This culture of silence has, I hope, been blown apart by the Me Too Movement. Now, I hope, our zeitgeist is “see something, say something”.
It’s hard sometimes to imagine a place and a time where employees might suspect someone is engaging in inappropriate behavior with children, but say nothing and do nothing about it. Former school or Church or Scout employees from that period of time will often admit there were “rumors” going around about some of the teachers or scout leaders or priests. But the employees were not encouraged– and in fact they were discouraged – from speaking out about it.
Why didn’t the administrators of those schools encourage their employees to speak up if they heard or saw anything of concern regarding teacher/student or priest/alter boy relationships? Simple; they wanted to avoid bad publicity. This is the root cause of the culture of silence.
The steady stream of lawsuits in New York filed against schools pales in comparison to the avalanche of suits filed against Catholic Dioceses. About 80% of all cases filed so far in New York have been against Catholic institutions. The second most common defendant is the Boys Scouts of America with about 8%. Next comes schools, with about 5%
I have a great deal of admiration for the men and women who now, so many years later, are finding the courage to step forward to demand justice for what they, as innocent children, suffered. I have received calls from men and women well into their seventh decade of life who never told anyone until now about what happened to them 50 or 60 years ago. I think they are doing us all a favor by making our children and our children’s children safer.
While I have taken some of these cases, unfortunately I have also rejected many. Often, the perpetrator was a family member, a neighbor, or a mentor. More often than not, those perpetrators are dead, very old, and/or poor. Unfortunately, in order to be able to justify the financial tsunami of a long and robustly defended CVA lawsuit, New York childhood sexual abuse lawyers need a “deep pocket” to go after. This usually means an institutional defendant such as the Church or a school or the Scouts or a foster care agency. This explains why, of the approximately 600 CVA lawsuits filed so far, 97% of them name at least one large institutions (Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, School Districts, foster care agencies, etc.) as defendants. Very few name ONLY individuals as defendants.
I know that many readers will think: “Just what I thought, these lawyers are only interested in money, not justice”. Not true. The sad truth is that we can’t get justice without money to fuel the fight. If we take only cases that chew up and spit out our limited financial resources with no possibility of a payday, where would we end up? In the gutter. Our litigation coffers would quickly empty and leave us with no arsenal of cash to really take on the bad guys.
Don’t get me wrong. The fact that I can’t help all victims upsets me. Why should those who happened to have been abused in an institutional setting (school, church, boy scouts, etc.) be entitled to justice while those abused by a neighbor or relative (the majority of victims by the way) not be entitled to the same?
Life isn’t fair. I would love to bring lawsuits against all sexual predators of children, regardless of their ability to pay, but that just can’t be done. So we’ll continue to go after those that can. Some measure of justice is better than none.