MSNBC reports here about an analysis by an expert in child abuse statute of limitations that the statute of limitations had NOT expired on allegations of child sexual abuse in the Jim Bob Duggar home when the Springdale police took a belated look at the case in 2006. A hotline tip that resulted in a review of allegations roughly three years old produced a Springdale police investigation that concluded without police action because of conclusion that the statute of limitations had expired on any potential crimes against children.
Marci A. Hamilton is a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law who maintains a site on statutes of limitation for child sex abuse, and wrote a book, Justice Denied, on the topic. She points out that though the civil statute for child sexual abuse in Arkansas has a three year limit, the criminal statute had a much longer time frame. As she reads Arkansas law, “If it is reported when [the victim] is a minor, then they have seven years from the date of the abuse,” Hamilton says. By her reading, that means the clock ran out on the Duggar allegations in 2013. “When it expires,” Hamilton says of the statute of limitations, “it’s over.”
It’s certainly over now. And the multiple layers of confidentiality that apply in child abuse, juvenile and unprosecuted criminal cases have now made a public review (and accountability) in this case just about impossible, particularly since Judge Stacey Zimmerman has ordered official police records destroyed.
The MSNBC expert makes the larger point that the statutes have been extended in Arkansas and elsewhere with the growing realization that the impact on victims is long-lasting and sometimes impossible for them to report until much later. But the result has been a hodgepodge of laws from state to state. (I must concede that the Duggars and their defenders, including Sen. Bart Hester, have invoked legal hodgepodge as an argument against local civil rights ordinances to protect gay people. They’ve also said the ordinances are dangerous because LGBT people are a threat to children.)
ALSO: We now know Fox News’ Megyn Kelly has no intention of being hard on the Duggars in her exclusive interview with them to be broadcast Wednesday night. She talked about the coming program on Fox with Fox’s Howie Kurtz. She seems focused on the release of the Springdale police report and the resulting identification of Josh Duggar. She says that never should have happened. I think she’s wrong in saying the report shouldn’t have been released. The report WAS public information and was properly released, with redactions that removed Josh Duggar’s name and those of children allegedly molested. The general knowledge among a wide group of people — thanks in part to the Duggars’ taking the matter to their church, family and others — meant that many people existed who could put the pieces of that episode together with the report. It’s been discussed over the years since on social media more than once.
There’s ample room for sympathy for identification of an accused juvenile offender. But there’s also room for questions (Kurtz at least noted this) about a failure of reporting abuse to proper authorities; of using questionable church “treatment” for the matter; of police and state agency response to child sexual molestation, and, yes, of course of the Duggars’ high-profile political role in alleging a propensity for child abuse among LGBT people.
Those don’t interest Kelly much, based on this account of the interview. She’d rather talk about Bill Clinton. Yes. Bill Clinton. See, some “liberal types” have shown the Duggars with a bunch of Republican politicians. What about Bill, once accused of rape? Kelly is outraged. I think her show will follow the usual Fox script — victimization of Christians and Republicans. Sex abuse victims?
“I’ve been pretty disgusted by how some liberal media types are using what’s obviously a family tragedy to score political points,” Howard Kurtz agreed, but also admitted that “sometimes people on the right feast on, when a liberal icon falls into trouble.”
“Nothing is off limits,” Kelly said of the Wednesday night interview. But, she added, “I don’t plan on getting into the specific details about what was done, because my understanding is the victims don’t want to discuss that either.”
In other words, nothing is likely to be off limits except questions unsympathetic to the Duggars.
Marci Hamilton, NY Times Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
I applaud Charles M. Blow for using two high-profile cases to highlight the alarming prevalence and circumstances surrounding childhood sexual abuse.
I also agree with him that it should not be “a political issue.” Sadly, however, it is: A majority of our states have been unable or unwilling to reform their statutes of limitation to provide most child sex abuse victims meaningful access to justice in the courts of law.
Reformation efforts in dozens of states have been repeatedly blocked by legislators influenced by predominantly religious special interest groups (Catholic and Latter-day Saints bishops and Jewish rabbis, among them) and occasionally secular groups (for example, some state American Civil Liberties Union affiliates have opposed reform for the criminal statutes of limitation). The four states most stuck in the political quagmire that disables victims’ access to justice are Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi and New York. This is political pandering, plain and simple.
We need to stop playing politics with child sex abuse victims and eliminate the impediments to prosecution and civil lawsuits for this horrific crime.
Washington’s Crossing, Pa.
The writer is a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.