Childhood sex abuse survivors met with New York lawmakers, (left-right) Dorothy Robb Farrell, Kathryn Farrell, Ana Wagner and Stephen Jimenez, all survivors of childhood sexual abuse, in Albany to meet with lawmakers Monday. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
BY GLENN BLAIN STEPHEN REX BROWN
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Top Democrats in Albany still won’t tell survivors where they can stand on the decade-old effort to reform the state’s statute of limitations law on child sex abuse claims.
A long day of lobbying legislators Monday did not yield any new hope for advocates as they left meeting after meeting with nothing more than rejections and earfuls of double-talk from politicians — some of whom remain noncommittal on the issue.
Senate Republicans remained opposed to reform — even after hearing survivors recall the horrors they endured as children.
After just two meetings before lunch, pessimism had set in among the six advocates that they’d made no progress persuading Albany powerbrokers to allow the reform to come to even come to a vote before the legislative session ends June 16.
“I don't know how we are going to move these guys,” Kathryn Robb, 55, said after she and other child sex abuse survivors met with state Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) and staff for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Long Island).
Her sense of despair was only slightly diminished following meetings with staff for Gov. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), the two most powerful Democrats in the capitol.
David Perino, Cuomo’s assistant legal counsel, told the group he could not give the governor’s position on the issue and spent the bulk of a meeting going over the details of Assemblywoman Margaret Markey’s bill.
Her legislation would end the statute of limitations on civil claims of sex abuse. It would also grant a one-year look-back window for those whose statute of limitations had expired to bring a civil lawsuit.
Child sex abuse victims in New York are currently unable to bring civil or criminal charges against their abusers after the turn 23.
That's absolutely ridiculous. Half of us don't remember being sexually abused until we are in our 30s or 40s or 50s. The statute of limitations revictimizes the survivors and prevents them fom ever getting closure, from moving on with their lives. And pedophiles are not only unpunished, they are walking freely in our streets endangering another generation of children.
Kathleen O’Keefe, counsel for legislative affairs and a Heastie staffer, threw out a Daily News reporter and photographer before sitting down with the survivors.
“I am a little disappointed that you were inviting reporters into the meeting,” O'Keefe said to the group.
Child-sex victims had little success getting clear answers from Albany's big three. (MIKE GROLL/AP)
She gave no commitments that the Assembly would take up legislation addressing the statute of limitations.
But Markey encouraged the group to remain hopeful. She vowed to continue pressing for a vote next month — though she has not been given any assurances from Heastie that it will happen.
“Look at all the press you’ve been getting,” she said. “I think it really adds to the momentum of getting the issue addressed in the Assembly and the Senate.”
Just how much momentum is anyone’s guess.
Legislative leaders on Monday once again offered no window into their thinking after meeting with Cuomo behind closed doors.
Cuomo’s assistant legal counsel, David Perino (r.), sits down with abuse survivors, but he told them he couldn’t discuss his boss’ stance on reform bills. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
“We talked about a variety of issues,” Flanagan told reporters, without elaborating.
Heastie said only that “a lot of things were discussed” among the so-called three men in a room.
Asked if Markey’s Child Victims Act or similar legislation was among the topics, he said he wasn’t sure.
“You have many discussions at a time,” he said. “I want to give you an accurate answer. I’m not sure if it was this meeting or the last one, but it did come up.”
Earlier in the day, Ana Wagner, 35, teared up as she told three of Flanagan’s staff of the abuse she suffered as a child and the fact that her accuser is active on Facebook.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Senator John DeFrancisco talks with survivors Monday. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
“How can they put a statute of limitations on my memories, which will never go away?” Wagner said. “And he’s out there smiling.”
The Flanagan staffers made it clear that they were only there to listen.
“I can't speak for the senator or the (GOP) conference,” Senior Counsel Colleen Glavin said before conceding there were concerns among the conference that eliminating the statute of limitations would be a “slippery slope.”
A slippery slope to what? It's not a slope, it's an end product. You can't remove the statute of limitations twice! There are no other criminal acts that result in refusal to deal with the memories for such a large percentage of its victims.
DeFrancisco was the only high-ranking legislator who sat down with the advocates. He even allowed a News reporter and photographer to sit in on the meeting, but also used his own videographer to record the session so “there are no misunderstandings.”
The No. 2 Republican in the Senate met with the group for nearly 40 minutes. Though sympathetic at times, DeFrancisco said that existing laws are sufficient and that eliminating the statute of limitations and giving a one-year look back would trigger false claims against innocent people.
Some of Albany's biggest pols still won't say where they stand on the Child Victims Act or similar laws. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
“I consider myself a moral human being trying to make the right decision balancing all the facts,” DeFrancisco said.
At one point, DeFrancisco grew annoyed at The News photographer for taking too many pictures.
“How many do you need?” he said, before accusing the photographer of making an effort to score a photo that would make DeFrancisco look like a “mean-spirited person.”
DeFrancisco also complained about what he called a “gotcha story” in The News that accurately reported that he had attended a pizza party with the Syracuse women’s basketball team instead of meeting with abuse survivors.
Robb, a sex abuse survivor, left the meeting feeling as if DeFrancisco’s opinion had not changed.
(JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
“I am pleased that he met with us. ... I think the senator is ill-informed,” she said.
In addition to Markey’s bill, another bill would extend the time in which victims can sue from 23 to 28. A third would eliminate both the civil and criminal statutes of limitations.
Raising it to 28 would change virtually nothing. There must be no age restriction.
“He means well and I am hoping he can see the fuller picture and not defend sexual predators and protect children. I do think he is sincerely listening I just hope he opens his mind a bit,” Robb said of DeFrancisco.
Wagner met separately with Gary Greenberg, a wealthy minority owner of the Vernon Downs racetrack who has vowed to spend $100,000 on efforts to get reform passed.
“They are public officials and they are accountable to the people they serve,” Greenberg said.
So, how can $100,000 get the bill passed? Would it slip under the table? Would it replace campaign donations from the Catholic Church? I think if the bill is not passed that someone should investigate how much money the Catholic Church has donated to those who prevent its passage.