Attorney: Law won’t help the abused
GREENWICH — The attorney representing a group of men who say they were sexually abused as children at the Greenwich Boys’ Club says new legislation to expand the state’s civil statute of limitations won’t do enough to enable abuse survivors to sue their attackers.
While many advocates and survivors of sexual abuse have celebrated the recent landmark passage of an Act Combatting Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in both state houses, attorney Philip Russell is urging Gov. Ned Lamont to veto the bill.
“This poorly drafted reform could actually work as a shield to protect the persons and entities who are legally responsible for the harm suffered by these victims,” Russell said in a statement this week. “I believe that we can do more for victims of sexual assault.”
Section 13 of the act extends the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims to file lawsuits from age 48 to 51. Any survivor of child sexual abuse born before Oct. 1, 1968 who was abused before Oct. 1, 1989 wouldn’t qualify for the new statute of limitations, said Russell in a letter he sent to the governor. That means only six of the 12 men who have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse at the Greenwich Boys’ Club will still not be able to file civil claims against the organization, said Russell.
“As written, Section 13 of the Act appears to protect a larger field of victims,” Russell said. “However, it is our hope that you will veto this legislation because the Act does not accommodate many of the victims whose suffering prompted this reform.”
Lucy Nolan, director of policy and public relations for the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, was involved in the process of drafting the legislation. She said though advocates didn’t get everything they negotiated for, the bill will bring many positive changes in the legal system for countless victims.
“I have to say that I am appalled that this lawyer would advocate for the whole bill to be vetoed since the look-back period isn’t in it,” Nolan said this week in response to Russell’s letter. “I understand the needs of his clients to get some sort of closure, but denying it to so many others is not the way to go.”
Russell cited the recent passage of the New York Child Victims Act, which includes a one-year window for any child sex abuse survivor to file a claim, as an example Connecticut should follow.
“During this one-year window, any person of any age is able to file a claim if they were sexually abused as a child in New York State,” Russell’s letter reads. “The CVA contains a number of additional, laudable measures, which I believe should be a model for Connecticut.” After the passage of the New York law, a flurry of victims came forward with their own stories of child sexual abuse. Because of the law, multiple lawsuits have now been filed against the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club for its alleged failure to stop what some claim is the most prolific case of child sex abuse in the nation’s history. Hundreds say they were sexually abused by Dr. Reginald Archibald, a “volunteer pool doctor” at the club.
“Regrettably, Connecticut chose not to include a similar one-time, one-year look-back window to address the gap between filing a claim and the enactment of the legislation extending the statute of limitations,” said Russell. “Consequently, there is a large class of victims who will remain unable to file a claim.”
Nolan said there was a look-back window of 27 months included in the original bill when it came out of committee.
“But that was quickly taken out, as many people had issues with it,” she said. “The bill would not have passed with the look-back period in it.”
Nolan said advocates also gave up eliminating the statute of limitations entirely, instead extending it to 20 years, so that the bill would pass.
In place of the look-back window, Nolan said a stakeholder task force was created “to report back to the Judiciary Committee before the session next January.”
Many people are disappointed that a lookback window wasn’t included, Nolan said.
“I can’t tell you how many survivors … that worked on this bill who are disappointed that the look-back period didn’t remain in the bill, but appreciate that so many others will be helped and not placed in the position they have been,” she said. “This bill is good and makes a huge difference to many sexual assault (and) abuse victims. There is not one person who will have a different outcome from the passage of this bill, but so many others will be helped.”
A representative for Lamont said Tuesday, “Our understanding is that additional legislation is being considered that would amend the original bill. Gov. Lamont looks forward to reviewing the final bill once it passes.”
In the Greenwich case, documents filed in the lawsuit claim at least three adult employees at the club, including its director, ignored years of rampant sexual abuse by Andrew Atkinson , who was an underage counselor at the time.
In an interview with Greenwich Time, Atkinson denied he ever hurt boys. Boys & Girls Clubs of America denied Jeff Starcher, who is now under their direct employ, had any previous knowledge of the abuse, as the lawsuit states.