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Inspiring change: Child sex abuse survivor’s story leads to new legislation

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Connie Altamirano, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, is continuing her crusade in the state legislature against this ongoing national epidemic — spreading the word within her Queens community and beyond.

The mom-activist bravely came forward to tell her story (read Part I here: https://www.nyparenting.com/stories/2018/10/child-sex-abuse-survivor-mother-advocate-2018-09.html) sharing how her experience as a victim has affected her as a woman, and most importantly at this juncture, as a parent.

Her story has inspired a new piece of legislation aimed at advancing justice and healing for survivors.

In her fight against injustice, Ridgewood parent Connie Altamirano has joined forces with a New York state senator to advance changes that will help other survivors find justice.

“As a parent, and as a legislator, it both angers and saddens me that so many young lives are devastated and left permanently scarred by these despicable acts,” said state Sen. Catharine Young (57th Senate District in Upstate New York), sponsor of the new Child Victims Fund legislation.

Sen. Young and Altamirano have forged a friendship and close working relationship in the course of developing a dialogue on the issue of childhood sexual abuse.

Altamirano’s story, shared during a budget hearing, had a profound impact on the senator and was part of her motivation for developing an alternative to the Child Victims Act, which has been stalled in Albany year after year, that would help assure justice and compensation for survivors like Altamirano, whose abusers were family members, and not affiliated with large, deep-pocketed institutions like the Catholic Church or Scouting organizations.

“While high-profile cases and multi-million-dollar settlements brought against institutions like the Catholic Church, and the Boy Scouts make headlines, the reality is that institutional sexual abuse accounts for only a fraction of child sexual abuse cases,” Sen. Young noted. “The other 80 to 90 percent of victims — abused by family members, neighbors, or acquaintances — who lack the means to pay civil damages, [The Child Victims Act] would do nothing for them. That is why we came up with a different solution,” she added.

In the hopes that Sen. Young can provoke change that helps others, her office has reached out to NY Parenting, so that readers can be made aware of her ongoing efforts and have a clear understanding of this crucial, solution-oriented proposal.

The Child Victims Fund

The legislation recently introduced in the New York State Senate by Sen. Young will advance justice and healing for many brave survivors of childhood sexual abuse by making it easier to prosecute perpetrators and provide restitution to victims. Key elements of the measure include the creation of a $300-million state fund from asset forfeiture monies to compensate victims for physical and psychological harm, and the elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for child sex offenses, allowing for prosecution of predators to occur no matter how many years had passed (the Child Victims Act only extends the criminal statute of limitations from 23 to 28 years of age).

“Childhood sexual abuse is one of society’s most insidious crimes. Perpetrated on innocent children, often by someone they know and trust, these crimes are frequently shrouded in shame, confusion, and silence, leaving victims with deep emotional and psychological wounds that can take decades to confront,” Sen. Young said. “While the wounds will never fully heal, victims deserve access to all avenues of justice, both criminal and monetary. This legislation serves as the bridge to that justice.”

Senator Young’s proposal would help all survivors by assuring compensation for everyone who has been a victim of childhood sexual abuse. The Child Victims Act and its “look-back window,” which would allow time-barred victims to sue their abusers for financial damages would, practically speaking, really only results in compensation for those who were abused by individuals affiliated with large, deep-pocketed institutions such as churches, the Boy Scouts, etc., according to the senator.

Victims like Altamirano, who were abused by family members, step-family members, etc. (the majority of child sexual abuse cases fall into this category), would probably not be able to collect compensation, unless their abuser is independently wealthy.

The Senator says her proposal would also completely eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, while the Child Victims Act would only raise it from 23 to 28 years of age. With most victims unable to confront their abuse until, typically, their 40s, the Child Victims Act’s minor change in the criminal statute would have little to no effect.

The healing process

As a clinical psychologist with expertise in psychological trauma, including due to child abuse and sexual assault, Dr. Jim Hopper has studied traumatic, as well as recovered, memories of sexual abuse for 20-plus years.

He writes on Psychcentral.com: “Research evidence shows victims can go for decades without having (recognizable or explicit) memories of the abuse. People almost always have implicit memories of the abuse, i.e. memories they did not realize were memories; for example, physiological or emotional responses triggered by encountering things associated with the abuse, like being touched in a certain way.”

Most survivors feel stripped of their dignity and sense of control and tend to block early memories of abuse until their 40s and 50s, sometimes only recalling snippets as though from a bad dream.

Early traumatic events seem to color a survivor’s world like a dark cloud hanging over their lives. Sadly, that has been Altamirano’s experience.

But there’s hope. According to Dr. Hopper, while traumatic memories can be scary and confusing, “they can be sorted out too,” he writes; “certainly enough to heal and have the life you want.”

Professional therapy may help, but it can take years and isn’t always effective. Indeed, the healing process is a long one, and the journey is daunting and emotionally arduous.

“By creating a state compensation fund for victims, monetary reparation for the horrific crimes victims endured will be available to them, regardless of the amount of time that has passed or their abusers’ financial status,” Sen. Young explained. “More efficient and expedited than a civil action, deserving victims who have been denied justice in other venues will find redress through this process.”

One of the most widely underreported crimes estimates are that approximately one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

To get what they want, predators weave a complicated web of lies and deceit, ensnaring their victims with manipulation and threats.

Sen. Young agrees. She says, “Victims of child sexual abuse are too often silenced — by their perpetrators, sometimes by disbelieving families and by a system that slams the door on their right to be heard before they have even found their voice. It is time for that to change. Providing victims with redress through the courts is not only just, it is a crucial part of the recovery process.”

• • •

Increased vigilance in reporting and preventing abuse are the goals of the final provisions of the new bill, which add members of the clergy to the list of “mandated reporters” obligated to report suspected abuse and require criminal background checks for employees and volunteers who work with children.

Particularly important, this expedited and streamlined compensation process would spare victims from waiting years for civil cases to work their way through the courts and protect them from the often re-traumatizing process of a trial. It would also offer the assurance of an award. When victims receive civil judgements against family members or other non-institutional abusers, the likelihood of the victim actually collecting those funds is low, according to Sen. Young, who emphasizes that “no matter the circumstances, victims could apply for compensation to rebuild their lives. My 21 co-sponsors and I believe that any measure to help victims must offer justice for all.”

She added: “The courageous survivors who are spearheading action on this issue are heroes. Their stories have convinced me that we need to help all victims affected by this devastating crime,” Sen. Young said. “However, in continuing to play partisan politics rather than working towards a realistic solution, Senate Democrats are leaving victims in the cold. The session clock is running out. The time to act is now.”

Tammy Scileppi is a Queens-based freelance writer and journalist, parent, and regular contributor to New York Parenting. Interviewing hundreds of New York City’s movers and shakers has been an amazing adventure for her. Scileppi’s work has appeared in a variety of media outlets. She has also written book cover copy for Simon and Schuster.

Posted 12:00 am, December 14, 2018
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