EDITORIAL: Establish legal fund for sex abuse victims

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

The whole point of the Child Victims Act for victims of child sex abuse — and the potential passage of the Adult Survivors Act for adult abuse victims — is to secure justice for those victims.

But if the victims can’t find an attorney willing to take their case, they can’t get the justice they deserve.

That’s been one of the complaints from victims and victims advocates about the three-year-old Child Victims Act, which temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on sex crimes so that victims could seek civil damages against their abusers.

Unless the victims have the financial means to hire a lawyer, or unless the potential target of litigation has deep financial pockets from which to secure legal fees in a big settlement (such as an institution like the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts of America), then victims often can’t get anyone to bring their cases to court.

What’s the point of having a law giving victims the right to bring legal action if the legal action is never brought?

The situation not only prevents certain victims from seeking justice, it also protects their abusers from facing legal action, in effect letting them get away with their crimes.

That’s a travesty that can be prevented by establishing a fund that victims could access to help them hire lawyers.

One bill pending in the Legislature (A1210A/S1088A) would create a dedicated Child Victim Foundation Fund that would be funded by a child victim fee assessed on any criminal defendant found guilty of a crime against someone under age 18. It also would allow businesses and individuals to donate their tax returns directly into the fund.

A bill introduced several years ago would have set up a Child Victim Reconciliation and Compensation Fund of $300 million, funded by a percentage of asset forfeitures and deferred prosecution agreements.

In combination with these funds, lawyers and law firms that profit from sex abuse cases should have to provide a certain percentage of work pro-bono (free) to eligible victims to ensure more cases are heard.

Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying the compensation that sex abusers should rightly be paying. But the state could facilitate the creation of such a fund and manage the account.

A similar issue will arise if and when lawmakers approve the Adult Survivors Act, so they need to address the legal funding issue sooner rather than later.

A system that discourages or prevents victims from taking legal action against their abusers favors abusers who’ve already gotten away with their crimes for far too long.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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