Friday, October 17, 2014

In Today's News :"Baker, Coakley Wrangle Over DCF"

Baker, Coakley Wrangle Over DCF

10:48 AM WED OCTOBER 15, 2014

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker has faulted his Democratic rival, Martha Coakley, for her handling of a lawsuit brought by a New York nonprofit against the state of Massachusetts.

Baker charges that by fighting an out-of-state, nonprofit child advocacy group in court, rather than negotiating with them, Coakley missed an opportunity to improve care for the Bay State’s most at-risk children.

That was four years ago, when a New York-based group called Children’s Rights alleged in federal court that the state Department of Children and Families exhibited a detailed and troubling pattern of negligence in the care of some of its charges. Coakley, representing the state as attorney general, convinced a Boston federal judge that Children’s Rights hadn’t made its case. The nonprofit is appealing.

Baker says Coakley could have done more for Massachusetts children by compromising.

"I simply believe — and I think the history has borne me out on this — that Massachusetts and the children served by that department would have been better served if the commonwealth had moved instead to fix what was wrong at that agency instead of litigating that case.”

Coakley disagrees.

"We made the right decision because what those lawyers from outside looking for millions of dollars was, was one-size-fits-all," she said. "It wasn’t right for Massachusetts. The Globe said that. The only ones standing up for it were the lawyers who would benefit."

Children's Rights' most recent tax filing shows the highest paid person there earned a total of nearly $313,000 in one year. That may sound like a lot, but it’s a fraction on what skilled litigators make.

Mary Collins, a professor of social welfare policy at Boston University, doesn’t think the Children's Rights group is out for money.

"I think that they — obviously, in the context of these lawsuits — need to recover the cost of the litigation," Collins said. "My understanding of Children's Rights organization is that they are committed to the well being of children, and again, sometimes forcing system change — this might be one of the only ways to do it."

Children’s Rights lead attorney Sara Bartosz points out the group is only paid when it wins.

"These salaries that are paid are competitive with nonprofit advocacy organizations that do the kind of work we do and take into account that we’re a New York-based organization with lawyers living in a very, very, very expensive city and marketplace.”

Bartosz says a settlement would hold the commonwealth accountable for change.

"The key thing we were looking for, of course, was a reform plan that would stand the test of time," she said. "So instead of having a new initiative or a blue ribbon panel look into possibilities of change, actually sit down and work out and tailor for Massachusetts a reform plan that would be an enforceable plan — a plan where a promise is made you’re saying to the court, 'Hold us to this. It’s that important and we’re going to get this done right for the kids once and for all.'”

Children’s Rights has sued about 20 governments to improve their child welfare systems. Three states and the District of Columbia fought back, while others settled. Fifteen of the cases resulted in consent decrees. Some examples of the results: Independent monitors report New Jersey has made “significant progress,” while Washington, D.C. and Connecticut are still lagging in important ways.

A somewhat similar effort in Massachusetts also resulted in a mixed bag. The 55-year-old children's advocacy organization Mass Kids filed a class-action suit against the state in the 1980s. The group’s executive director, Jetta Bernier, says the administration of former Gov. Michael Dukakis settled, but many of the improvements they achieved weren’t lasting.

“After four years of litigation that was very expensive and time consuming, we learned an important lesson as advocates," Bernier said. "And that was essentially that you can make gains, but if you can’t sustain them, you’re back at square one. If the parties are willing to come to the table and have the mission of child safety first and foremost in their minds, a lot can be accomplished. I don’t think litigation is necessarily the way to go."

But rather than talk about this case, Bernier wants the candidates to detail the ways they plan to improve DCF.

So here are the specifics — or at least a summary of them: Coakley’s plan to improve the Department of Children and Families includes creating a separate child protection division to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect. Baker says he would perform detailed audits to identify failing DCF offices, then give those offices new management and oversight.

Whatever citizens may think of these two plans on will eventually emerge a winner in the court of public opinion called the November election.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Bill extends time limit on sexual abuse lawsuits

Bill extends time limit on sexual abuse lawsuits

Would let alleged child victims file until age 53

By Travis Andersen, Derek J. Anderson and Jennifer Smith  | GLOBE STAFF | GLOBE CORRESPONDENTS   JUNE 20, 2014 

The Massachusetts Legislature is on the verge of finalizing a bill that will give alleged child sexual abuse victims an additional 32 years to file civil lawsuits, a move one specialist said will open the door to thousands of new cases.

The bill would extend the statute of limitations for filing suits against alleged perpetrators and, in future cases, the people or institution supervising them. Under the legislation, the victims would be able to file suits up to age 53, instead of the current limit of age 21.

The Senate passed the measure Thursday, after it was approved by the House Wednesday.

Lawmakers expect to send a bill to Governor Deval Patrick’s desk soon, after a few more procedural votes, said Senator William N. Brownsberger, the Senate cochairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

“We’re very glad we were able to get this done,” said Brownsberger. “It is going to protect children in the future. It really is.”

Carmen L. Durso, a lawyer for sexual abuse victims and a vocal supporter of the bill, also hailed its passage. “It will open the doors of the courthouse to thousands, literally thousands of people who have otherwise been excluded from being able to file suits,” Durso said by phone. “This will give them the opportunity to name their perpetrators and do what almost all of them want to do, which is make sure their perpetrators can’t get to other victims.”

Rosanne Sliney, 50, of Burlington, whose suit against her uncle was dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds, said the legislation gives her hope she may get justice.

“My lawyer can contact the judge, say that these are new laws, we need to move forward to trial,” she said. “It will definitely give me a chance at justice and a fair fight against someone who destroyed me in my life.”

The landmark bill contains some important distinctions. In cases involving past abuse, for example, the provision extending the statute of limitations from age 21 to 53 would allow alleged victims to sue only the perpetrators, but not the alleged abuser’s supervisors and the institution that they worked or volunteered for.

The institutions would, however, be subject to the new rule and could be sued in cases of abuse that occur after the law passes. Institutions potentially exposed to lawsuits include churches, schools, youth centers, and other organizations.

In cases of repressed memory, the bill would give adults seven years to file claims against alleged perpetrators and their supervisors once they realize they were abused as children, an increase from the current three-year threshold.

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the bill a “very big step forward” but expressed disappointment with the provision that shields institutions from some retroactive claims.

Clohessy said his group is “saddened but not surprised that Catholic officials lobbied so hard to continue evading responsibility for child-molesting clerics.”

The Catholic Church, in particular, has been rocked by a sexual abuse crisis that exploded in Boston in 2002 and has led to dioceses in Massachusetts and elsewhere paying hundreds of millions of dollars in civil claims, straining budgets and forcing school and parish closings.

Asked to comment on the legislation, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston released a statement from the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s four Catholic bishops, that said the group supports the legislation.

“We, the bishops of the four dioceses of Massachusetts, recognize the suffering of survivors who have experienced sexual abuse and remain committed to assuring the safety of children entrusted to our care,” the statement said.

“For well over a decade, we have been utilizing comprehensive pastoral outreach programs for survivors and their families, have been vigilant in reporting claims, have worked closely with law enforcement, and continue to be dedicated to resolving cases in a just and responsible manner.”

The Catholic Conference added that the church has taken a number of steps to address the crisis, including background screening for tens of thousands of employees and volunteers, as well as the immediate removal of any cleric or other person credibly accused of abuse.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for sexual abuse victims who is best known for filing a number of lawsuits against the Catholic Church, could not be reached for comment Thursday night., an advocacy group for victims, echoed the sentiments of other advocates who wanted a stronger bill, even while praising the version that was passed.

In a statement, the group said: “The bill is far from perfect. It keeps the courthouse doors slammed shut to most of the thousands of child sexual abuse victims now age 53 or older. And it will do almost nothing to expose and hold accountable those supervisors and employers who already have been negligent, careless, or deceptive in managing offenders.”

But Durso, the lawyer for abuse victims, said that a compromise was better than nothing.

“The perfect bill would be no statute of limitations at all,” he said. “And sometimes you can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good and the useful.”

Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, a group that pushed for the changes, agreed with Durso’s assessment.

“We are fully aware that this is not the perfect bill, but we could not let the status quo continue,” she said.

Senate and House leaders released statements of support for the measure.

“The changes in this bill are essential for protecting the victims of sexual abuse and holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions,” Senate President Therese Murray said.

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in passing this bill that protects victims of sexual violence and better holds institutions accountable,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said.

Patrick’s office declined to comment.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen

Statute of Limitations Bill Passes Unanimously in House and Senate

Statute of Limitations Bill Passes Unanimously in House and Senate
Advocates and Church Leaders Arrive at Compromise

June 19, 2012, BOSTON, MA – Behind-the-scenes diplomacy over the past several months among legislators, legal experts, child advocates and Church officials has resulted in a bill that will finally provide civil relief for victims of child sexual abuse who were previously time-barred by law from filing charges against their alleged abusers. The bill moved quickly through the Judiciary Committee, championed by Senator William Brownsberger, recently appointed Senate Co-Chair of the Committee. House sponsor Representative John Lawn shepherded it through to the House where it was passed unanimously on Thursday. Late today, the Senate also confirmed its unanimous support. The bill, which includes an emergency provision, will go into immediate effect upon Governor Patrick’s signing and he is expected to do so.

Any child 18 or younger who is abused after the law goes into effect will now have up to the age of 53 to file civil charges against their alleged abuser and/or against a supervisor and/or the employer of that supervisor.  Previously a victim only had up to 3 years past their 18th birthday to file civil charges or until 3 years after they came to understand the harm caused by the abuse. Under the new law, that limited “discovery period” is extended to 7 years. Also, the previous requirement that a survivor give a two-year notice of intent to file charges under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act has been eliminated, but only for claims of sexual abuse.

A significant feature of the proposed new law is its retroactivity for survivors. This means that anyone who was sexually abused in the past and who was time-barred under the old law from filing civil charges against their alleged abuser will now have until the age of 53 to do so.

The new law, however, would not be retroactive for institutions and their supervisors.  This means that survivors who believe their past abuse was due to the actions or inactions of an organization and/or a supervisor of that organization, may not file civil charges if they were time-barred under the old law.  Only abuse by institutions and supervisors that occurs after the new law goes into effect would be subject to the age 53 provision.

“We are fully aware of the bill’s limitations regarding survivors age 53 or older, as well as the inability of some to file civil charges against institutions which may have been complicit in allowing child sexual abuse to occur under their watch,”, said Jetta Bernier, director of MassKids, a child advocacy organization that has been involved in the SOL reform fight for several years.  “Negotiators were faced with an all-or-nothing choice and so chose to do what was currently possible for the greatest numbers of survivors.  We simply could no longer accept the status quo and the protections it provided abusers while disregarding the rights of survivors and potential future child victims,” she said.  The group says it is committed to fight for additional reforms and prevention policies in the next legislative session.

Rosanne Sliney, a survivor of child sexual abuse, who was time-barred under the old law from suing the uncle who abused her from age 5 to 14, expressed the sentiment of many abuse victims.  “With this long overdue move, we have finally succeeded in wresting power away from abusers who were largely protected under the old law. Victims now have the power they need to seek justice in the courts, to heal, and to shield more children from sexual abuse.”

Marci Hamilton, constitutional law scholar and the nation’s foremost legal expert on Statute of Limitations stated: "This law is a good development for Massachusetts survivors.  The retroactive age extension to age 53 is innovative and worthy of other states' attention.”  However, she raised concerns that the law would still shield the four Massachusetts Dioceses of Boston, Fall River, Springfield and Worcester from potential new suits brought against them by some victims of clergy sexual abuse. “The failure to include institutions under the retroactive provision shows that Catholic bishops' continue to exert their power in an effort to avoid justice.  Still, the retroactive extension of the discovery rule to 7 years beyond discovery for all defendants is an improvement over existing law."

Bills to reform civil and criminal SOLs were introduced in numerous states in 2014, including California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. MassKids and other advocates succeeded in 2009 in extending the state’s criminal SOL.  Before then a victim had only up to 15 years past their 16th birthday or by age 31 to file criminal charges against their abuser. Now they have until age 43.


How do the new and old SOL laws compare?

NEW LAW: Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse - age 53
For abuse occurring from this date on, a victim can bring suit against their abuser and the supervisor or employer of the abuser, any time before their 53rd birthday.

For abuse that occurred prior to passage of the new law, a victim who was barred under the old law can now bring suit against their abuser, any time before their 53rd birthday. They are still restricted from bringing suit against the supervisor or employer of the abuser.

OLD LAW: Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse - age 18
A victim of child sexual abuse upon reaching the age of 18 could file suit against their abuser and supervisor or employer of the abuser.

* * *

NEW LAW: Discovery Rule - 7 years
A victim of child sexual abuse now has 7 years after they reach their 18th birthday, or 7 years from the time they discover or reasonably should have discovered the harm caused by the abuse, to file a complaint.

There is NO age limit to the 7 year discovery rule, e.g. a victim abused at age 15 who does not discover the harm done until they are significantly older may still file a complaint if it is filed within 7 years after they discover the harm done or before their 53rd birthday, whichever is LATER.

The 7 Year Discovery Rule is also retroactive for supervisors and employers, e.g. a victim of child sexual abuse who is 40 years old and discovers at that time the harm done by the abuse would have until age 47 to file a complaint against the abuser’s supervisor or employer. The victim would have until age 53 to sue their abuser as the time limit is the later of the two ages that is, age 53 or 47 years – 7 years from discovery.)

OLD LAW: Discovery Rule - 3 years
A victim of child sexual abuse had 3 years after their 18th birthday, or 3 years from the time they discovered or should have discovered the harm caused by the abuse, to file a complaint. There was no retroactive provision for this Discovery Rule.

* * *

NEW LAW: MA Tort Claims for child sexual abuse claims only
A written notice of intent to file a complaint against an abuser, supervisor or employer is no longer required.

OLD LAW: MA Tort Claims- 2 year notice & 3 Year SOL
There was a required 2-year written notice of intent to file a complaint for suits brought against towns, cities, governments, municipalities and a 3-year SOL.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ending the sex abuse epidemic: Schools are keeping their students at risk of abuse


Every week, we learn of new charges of sexual abuse and rape at schools that have allegedly mishandled or hidden complaints by victims. Last week it was Columbia University; the week before, it was Florida State.

It has been three years since the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky horror, and little has been accomplished. Almost as disturbing as the abuse itself are the revelations of institutional bungling of investigations, and sometimes, failure to investigate at all.

Sadly, sexual abuse extends far beyond the church, the military, sports and our universities. It is widespread in our secondary schools, where it is estimated that one in five children has been abused by a school educator or employee between kindergarten and 12th grade.

By now, almost everyone has heard about the decades of sexual abuse at the Horace Mann school. Less well known is the fact that the school repeatedly failed to respond to dozens of abuse complaints.

For the past few months, I have been conducting an investigation into what happened at Horace Mann at the behest of an alumni group. The goal of our investigation is to explain the culture that allowed these terrible acts to occur repeatedly over 30 years.

As part of the investigation, we commissioned a study of how 20 other independent schools throughout the country have dealt with similar revelations in the recent past.

We found a disturbing pattern: Most complaints were quashed or ignored; victims were mislead and told they needed documentary proof of the abuse; victims were told it might hurt their college admission chances if they persisted in reporting complaints; schools failed to report abuse to law enforcement; they protected the abuser, put the interests of the school ahead of the victim. Most schools admitted the abuse only when forced to by exposure by the media.

The victims in all of these cases were young, impressionable and often unable to recover from the deep and lasting trauma of being abused by people who were their heroes and role models, beloved teachers or coaches. Many believed they were the accuser’s only victim and never reported it to anyone. This sense of isolation further traumatized them.

While every state has laws mandating that public schools report abuse by parents or guardians, these laws generally do not apply to abuse by school educators or employees. And even these inadequate laws do not apply to private schools. How can we ensure justice for young victims who may never recover from the trauma inflicted? We must make certain that private schools — and all other educational institutions — institute a series of reforms.

Hiring must include criminal background checks and reference checks; a detailed description of prohibited behavior, as well as the consequences of violations. And workplaces must provide annual training sessions for teachers and staff in recognizing, reporting and preventing sexual abuse.

Every school must put into place a mandatory system of reporting complaints of abuse to an independent council of well-credentialed persons, most of whom should be unconnected to the school.

Under the Clery Act, American colleges and universities that receive federal funds are required to make all incidents of crime and sexual abuse public. Private schools should be required to do the same. Parents should know whether their children’s school is safe before they enroll, not after sexual abuse is reported in the media.

It is also critical that all credible instances of abuse be disclosed to any potential employer to keep an abuser from being hired by an unsuspecting school or youth organization. We must prevent situations analogous to the deliberate re-shuffling of abusing priests in the Catholic church, by creating a registry of abusers available to any school or organization involved with children. This re-shuffling happened with several teachers at Horace Mann and has happened at many other schools.

And we must also finally fix overly restrictive statutes of limitations, which prevent many child victims from reporting crimes against them.

More broadly, we must find new ways to change the attitude of schools from self-protection to protection of the victims of these traumatic crimes. Penn State eventually cooperated. Horace Mann refused to cooperate and refused to conduct its own investigation.

In the past, the response of too many of our institutions to the epidemic of sexual abuse has been limited, inadequate and at times pathetic. Enough lip service. It is time for action.

Snyder has worked in the criminal justice system for over 35 years, both as a prosecutor and as a judge. She founded and led the Manhattan Sex Crimes Prosecution Bureau and co-authored New York’s Rape Shield Law.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cherishing Every Child this Holiday Season

Cherishing Every Child this Holiday Season
Stop the Hurt. Donate to MassKids Today!

Please take just a few minutes from your busy holiday schedule to listen to a brief message from Senator Elizabeth Warren that speaks to the critical problem of child sexual abuse and MassKids’ leadership in addressing an issue which the American Medical Association has called “a silent, violent epidemic.” We also invite you to hear an inspiring and uplifting song performed by Framingham children at our recent Summit to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse in Schools and Youth Organizations. "Stop the hurt before it starts, we don't need more broken hearts," they sing. They remind us that children look to us - their parents, relatives, teachers, and other caring adults - to protect them from abuse and exploitation.
MassKids has been an effective advocate for our state’s most vulnerable children for over half a century. We hope you will help support MassKids today with your holiday gift so that we can continue the critical work to prevent child abuse across our state and communities.

“Why can’t we cherish every child?” the children sing. Let’s show them we do by stopping the hurt, before it starts.

P.S. For the lyrics of this song, please click here.