The Freedom From Religion Foundation recently played a part in moving forward an essential bill through the Hawaii Senate that helps victims of sexual crimes get justice.
FFRF Attorney Ryan Jayne submitted written testimony to the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee in support of H.B. 2177, which extends the statute of limitations for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to bring civil claims against their abusers. FFRF strongly urged the committee to approve this measure. It would extend the statute of limitations to within 50 years of the survivor’s 18th birthday. According to CHILD USA, the average age at which child abuse is disclosed is 52.
“The abuse, assault or rape of children has lasting physical, emotional, and mental effects,” Jayne told the committee members on behalf of FFRF. “We should not be surprised that it takes years, or even decades, for these victims to face what has happened to them, let alone take the difficult steps of seeking redress and justice. Our laws should give access to justice to these survivors when they are ready, not shut the door on them because they took what some might consider to be ‘too long’ to deal with the earth-shattering consequences of their abuse.”
Many states have investigated child sexual abuse perpetuated by clergy employed by various Catholic dioceses and other churches, and have found the problem’s scope to be massive, FFRF pointed out. (FFRF tirelessly records clergy criminal sexual abuse in a regular column titled “Black Collar Crime” in its newspaper Freethought Today.) Considering the severe psychological trauma that can result from childhood sexual assault and the extreme power that churches hold over many communities, it is unsurprising that many survivors do not pursue legal action until long after they reach adulthood. That’s why this legislation is urgently needed, FFRF insisted.
This bill is not a free ticket to target churches for money, as some churches are insinuating. (The Roman Catholic Church has squandered huge sums to defeat efforts to extend statutes of limitation for child abuse survivors, spending more than $5.3 million on such lobbying in Pennsylvania alone since 2011.) Survivors still have the burden of proof, and still must find and submit evidence. The longer they wait, the more difficult that becomes. H.B. 2177 simply gives them the chance to try, FFRF underscored.
The Hawaii Senate committee seems to have been in agreement with FFRF’s perspective. H.B. 2177 has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously (and the committee gave a shoutout to the state/church watchdog for being in support of the bill).
“We’re more than happy to share our expertise with legislative bodies,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We are especially heartened in this instance that we’ve had a role in bringing a vitally important piece of legislation closer to law.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country, including many members in Hawaii. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church, and educates about nontheism.
Photo of FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne by Chris Line.