N.J. Lawmakers Pass Bill To Extend Statute Of Limitations For Sex Abuse

9 hours ago
Originally published on April 5, 2019 6:45 pm
Copyright 2019 WHYY. To see more, visit WHYY.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and rampant sexual harassment allegations exposed in the #MeToo movement have brought many survivors forward. But in many states, they are barred from suing their abusers in civil court because of the statute of limitations; that's on the verge of changing in New Jersey and maybe many other states. As Joe Hernandez from member station WHYY reports, some say it's about time.

JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: Todd Kostrub lives in Surf City, N.J., just a few blocks from the beach.

TODD KOSTRUB: It's all right. How you doing?

HERNANDEZ: All right. How you doing?

KOSTRUB: Good.

HERNANDEZ: We sit down in his living room, and he shows me a photo of a young boy in a Catholic school uniform - light blue shirt, navy necktie.

KOSTRUB: The age of the picture, I was 7 years old.

HERNANDEZ: What grade was that?

KOSTRUB: Second grade; just got into second grade when those pictures were taken.

HERNANDEZ: And that's when the abuse started?

KOSTRUB: Yes.

HERNANDEZ: When Kostrub was an altar boy, he was abused by a Franciscan brother in his parish; it lasted for 12 years. Kostrub says it took him a long time to accept that he was abused and admit it to close friends and family members. And when he finally decided he wanted to sue his abuser in civil court, he learned that the state's two-year statute of limitations had already run out.

KOSTRUB: You don't have a voice as a child, and then to be an adult and being told I don't have a voice was extremely painful.

HERNANDEZ: If a bill passed by both houses of the New Jersey legislature is signed into law, many more victims may get their voices back. The legislation would dramatically expand the statute of limitations on sexual abuse. It would give child victims until age 55 or within seven years of realizing they were abused to file a lawsuit. It would also give survivors who were previously blocked from suing their perpetrators a two-year window to bring cases. Democratic State Senator Joe Vitale is the lead sponsor of the bill.

JOE VITALE: It's been introduced every voting session that we've had over the past 17 or 18 years.

HERNANDEZ: Vitale says there was never enough support for the idea, in large part because of opposition from the Catholic Church. Now, Vitale believes, politicians have had enough.

VITALE: To a person - they all knew that it was happening, not just in the church but in the Boy Scouts and other institutions and individual homes, for that matter.

HERNANDEZ: Across the country, 35 states are currently considering legislation to expand the statute of limitations on sexual abuse, according to Marci Hamilton with the group Child USA.

MARCI HAMILTON: This is the most active year in history on statute of limitations issues.

HERNANDEZ: New York recently expanded its civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse, and dozens of other states, including California and Virginia, are considering similar measures. Hamilton says the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse and reporting on the #MeToo movement have prompted more states to rethink their laws.

HAMILTON: I think we've reached a point where the public is finally 100 percent behind the victims, and nobody seems to be afraid anymore of the institutions.

HERNANDEZ: Yet some of those institutions are still pushing back - the Catholic Church in New Jersey, which has lobbied against similar proposals, is asking legislators to delay the implementation of the law. Patrick Brannigan, with the New Jersey Catholic Conference, says victims can avoid going to court by filing claims through the church's victims compensation program.

PATRICK BRANNIGAN: Program that provides victims with a speedy, transparent and nonadversarial process to resolve their claims. Litigation for some victims is a retraumatization, with depositions and court appearances.

HERNANDEZ: But for victims like Todd Kostrub, it isn't about money; he wants to file a civil lawsuit to learn why his abuser was moved from Michigan to New Jersey and find out who else knew about the abuse.

KOSTRUB: I think it'll help me as a victim and a survivor to know the full story. It's my story. I'm the one who paid the price for that story. He didn't pay the price; I paid the price with my soul.

HERNANDEZ: New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says he supports extending the state's statute of limitations, but he has not yet signed the bill. For NPR News, I'm Joe Hernandez, in Trenton, N.J.

(SOUNDBITE OF Akira Kosemura's "DNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.