Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill inspired by the Jerry Sandusky case, and in doing so, righted an egregious wrong that hurt many victims of child sexual abuse by pedophile priests within the Catholic Church.
Originally, the statute of limitations on prosecuting perpetrators of child sexual abuse was either ten years after the crime was reported or the victim turned 24. The new statute of limitations is 40 years and there appears to be no age limit.
The change in the statute of limitations was spearheaded by Bennington County Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Christina Rainville and Bennington’s state Senator Dick Sears. Sears, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has in the past spearheaded other legislative efforts to protect children. Most notably, he pushed to change the law after the murder of Brooke Bennett by her uncle.
Shumlin stated “It often takes years and years and years before the victim is ready, able or willing to talk about their trauma and ensure that justice is served. I know that Sen. Sears was motivated by this bill from not a crime that happened in Vermont but a crime that happened, as we all know, in Pennsylvania. (Sears) saw a wrong and wanted to right it. We appreciate your hard work and dedication on this one.”
Sears heard many stories of victims who were only able to come forward many years after they were abused, but they were often unable to pursue justice. Sears stated “You couldn’t prosecute under Vermont law today. Tomorrow, you will.”
Shumlin also noted “A huge thank you to Tina Rainville, because frankly, without Tina, we wouldn’t have gotten where we’ve gotten. We sign this bill for all of Vermont’s kids and all the people who are working so hard in the field to keep them safe,” Shumlin said, before signing the bill and handing the pen to Rainville.
Barbara Dorris, the Outreach Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) praised the move stating
Often, child sex abuse victims are reluctant to report to overworked and underfunded police and prosecutors. Often, they feel safer contacting civil attorneys. And victims often believe – correctly – that a civil suit can be the quickest and most effective way to warn unsuspecting families about child predators.
Men and women who were sexually assaulted as children deserve options. They deserve a chance to expose their predators in court – both criminal and civil.
We hope Vermont lawmakers will soon give more of them that chance.
Author: Bridgette P. LaVictoire