Kaplan, abuse survivors push for Child Victims Act vote

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North Hempstead Town Counilwoman Anna Kaplan was joined by survivors and elected officials in advocating for the Child Victims Act at a Thursday rally in Mineola. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Harold Siering can still picture the blue bedroom where he was first sexually abused, he said.

Between ages 10 and 17, Siering said he was repeatedly abused by officials in the Big Brothers program he was a part of as well as at his Catholic school in Babylon.

“I deal with flashback everyday, it’s like you’re going back to that memory, at 10 or 11 or 12 and being in that room,” said Siering, a Massapequa Park resident. “… There’s no medicine or pills or psychiatry, nothing to get this to stop. I suffer everyday. The only way to fight this stuff, is to pass the Child Victims Act with the one-year look-back.”

Siering joined fellow survivors and advocates at a rally in Mineola to back North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) in her race for the District 7 state Senate seat.

The Thursday rally was held on the heels of a grand jury report unveiling that the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse crimes of more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, according to the New York Times.

The findings may push Pennsylvania lawmakers to lift the criminal statute of limitations and lengthen windows for lawsuits in their state, CNN reported.

Pennsylvania law currently allows for child victims of sexual abuse to pursue criminal charges up to 50 and civil suits up to 30, according to CNN.

A bill before the Pennsylvania state House proposes the state eliminates time limit for prosecutions and move the lawsuit ceiling to 50, according to CNN.

Even Pennsylvania’s existing law gives victims more leeway to press charges than existing New York law, which bars victims from pressing charges after 23.

The Child Victims Act would expand the statute of limitations to victims who are 28 years old and the civil statute of limitations to victims up to 50 years old.

The act would also create a one-year look-back window for previously unaddressed claims to be filed.

What was uncovered in Pennsylvania, is happening in New York, too, advocate and survivor Gary Greenberg said.

The only way to fix it, is to pass the Child Victims Act, he said.

Kaplan faces Republican incumbent Elaine Phillips, who along with her caucus let the legislative session end with the Child Victims Act not being called to a floor vote.

“Let me be perfectly clear, this is not a partisan issue, this is to be able to empower these victims so they can face what they have gone through,” Kaplan said. “So that they could have there day in court.”

In a statement, Phillips said “it is tragic that Ms. Kaplan is politicizing an issue that has deeply affected so many individuals and their families.”

Phillips also touted a GOP-bill she co-sponsored aimed at helping victims, which was also not called to a vote this year.

Although Kaplan said the issue has nothing to do with political parties, the Republican-controlled state Senate has blocked the Child Victims Act for years.

It has passed the state Assembly six times, this year with wide support on both aisles passing in a 124-9 vote.

Survivors Harold Siering, left, and Gary Greenberg, second from left, spoke at the rally.
(Photo by Rebecca Klar)

It is also backed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and has the support of 90 percent of New York state voters, according to a February Quinnipiac University poll.

When the Democrats tried to push the bill, along with others, to a vote on the last day of the legislative session, when the chamber was split 31-31 down party lines with one Republican gone for naval duty, Republican lawmakers reportedly walked out.

“In November, when you go to the polls, instead of letting them walk out – kick them out,” state Sen. John Brooks said at the rally.

Brooks, a Democrat representing the south shore of Long Island, was first elected in 2016.

“It’s sad that we’re here. Sad that another election cycle has come up with this as an issue. Sad that Republicans can talk both sides of the issue because they don’t have to vote,” Brooks said.

State Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso (D-Port Washington), who is a co-sponsor of the Assembly’s version of the bill, also came out Thursday to show his support for the bill and Kaplan’s campaign.

In May, Phillips co-sponsored a bill proposed by fellow Republican state Sen. Catharine Young, who represents western New York, that the GOP lawmakers said was intended to help child victims.

The Republican bill would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations completely, without addressing the civil statute of limitations.

The bill is centered around a state compensation fund, comprised of $300 million in asset forfeiture funds from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, that would be available to all time-barred victims of child sexual abuse.

Some advocates bashed the bill, but Greenberg, founder of ProtectNYKids, said it was a step in the right direction at the time.

The Republican bill was also not called to a vote by the end of the session.

“Senator Flanagan will not bring a Republican bill to the floor. You know why, because they have no interest in helping children,” Greenberg said.

Flanagan was not immediately available for comment on Friday morning.

In her statement, Phillips said she is “proud to have reached across the aisle to find a better solution for victims and to have met with both advocates and victims to craft legislation that will compensate all victims of childhood sexual abuse not just the few included in the Child Victims Act.”

“Eighty to ninety percent of victims are abused by family members, neighbors or acquaintances – the legislation she is pushing does nothing for those individuals,” Phillips said. 

State Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who along with the majority of assembly members has repeatedly voted in favor of the bill, called Phillip’s observation “strange.”

“The language of the proposed statute expressly provides for individuals to be able to sue for having been abused and it also allows for the state of New York to prosecute people criminally who committed the abuse,” Lavine said in an interview. 

Lavine also renewed a push for the state Senate to pass the legislation in a news release issued Friday due to the Pennsylvania report findings.

“Adults who were sexually abused as children must have the protection of justice. New York’s current law protects and thereby enables predator and that must end,” Lavine said in the release. “… It is time for the Senate to finally stand up for what is right.”

Noting a mailer Phillips sent out claiming she is standing up for child victims Greenberg said Phillips is in fact not standing up.

“She sat down and turned her back,” he said. “You can put your name on any bill, any time, any place. Standing up is standing on the Senate floor and demanding a vote. I didn’t hear any Republicans do that.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Klar by email at rklar@theislandnow.com, by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 204, or follow her on Twitter @rebeccaklar_.

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