The state House of Representativesyesterday passed legislation prompted by the clergy sexual abusescandal that would remove some restrictions on prosecuting abuse casesand would toughen restrictions on some convicted sex offenders.
The measure, headed to the Senate as early asMonday, goes partway toward addressing concerns raised by victimadvocates, who have repeatedly objected to laws in many states,including Massachusetts, that preclude lawsuits and prosecutionsstemming from abuse that took place decades ago.
House SpeakerSalvatore F. DiMasi said the measure virtually eliminates the statuteof limitations for the prosecution of child sexual abuse inMassachusetts.
The measure would change the state's statute oflimitations for child sexual abuse cases, making it possible forprosecutors to bring charges 27 years after the victim first reportsthe episode, or 27 years after the victim turns 16. And prosecutorscould bring charges in cases that occurred longer ago if there isindependent evidence that corroborates the victim's allegations. (The27-year period, which would replace a 15-year limit in the current law,was chosen as a compromise, but also is supposed to allow enough timefor victims to reach adulthood and recognize that abuse is aprosecutable crime.)
``We felt we needed to protect children, andwe needed to strengthen our laws to make sure that sexual predators arebrought to justice and that there is an opportunity for a prosecutionin these cases," DiMasi said. ``We've seen people who were molestedwhen they were children, and some people virtually were getting awaywith it because their statute of limitations had run [out] and weweren't able to prosecute ."
Governor Mitt Romney wants to review all of the provisions ofthe bill before deciding whether to sign it, but he is generallysupportive, said his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom.
Clergy abusevictim organizations had wanted the state to fully repeal the criminalstatute of limitations -- an idea supported by the Senate but rejectedby the House because of concern about the ability of alleged abusers todefend themselves after so much time had passed. Victims also wantedthe state to eliminate a civil statute of limitations, which currentlyrestricts some lawsuits by victims, but that idea has not gainedtraction in the Legislature.
``This is a good first step, but alot more needs to be done," said Bonnie Gorman of Quincy, aco-chairperson of the Coalition to Reform Sex Abuse Laws inMassachusetts. ``It's leaving decisions to the district attorneys,which is exactly where they should be left. But we're very disappointedabout the civil bill."
A lawyer for numerous clergy abuse victimsagreed. ``Although the proposed law is not perfect, it is a buildingblock which can be used as a foundation for eradicating the statute oflimitations in criminal cases," said the lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian.Continued...