Opinion

Equal justice for sex abuse victims

Child sex abuse is a terrible crime and one that each and every one of us has a moral, legal and ethical responsibility to expose and prevent.  There are many ways that the law can and should deal with the problem, but as local leaders of the La Raza Roundtable de California, we don’t believe SB 131, a bill by state Sen. Jim Beall (D-Campbell) is one of them.

 

On the surface, SB 131 looks like serious legislation to deal with the rights of victims of child sexual abuse to sue their abuser by reviving claims that have died because the statute of limitations has expired.  But scratch the surface, and people should have serious concerns about how it addresses the problem.

 

Why?

 

Because SB 131 isn’t about victims.  It’s about lawsuits.  If it were about victims, it would focus on the perpetrators of abuse and give new rights to all victims of sexual abuse, but it doesn’t.

 

Instead, SB 131 discriminates against the poor and less well off by reviving legal claims for child sex abuse only against private and non-profit organizations like private schools or groups like Little League or youth soccer, but not against public schools, public agencies or government workers of any kind.

 

So if someone is abused at Stanford or Santa Clara or some other private school or college, they could sue.  But if they were abused by someone associated with a public school, or a city-run day care or a community college like DeAnza, they’re out of luck.  The bill makes sure public schools and local governments have complete immunity—i.e. they cannot be sued—for any incidents of child sex abuse that took place before 2009.

 

SB 131 is written so poorly, in fact, that it won’t allow lawsuits to be revived against the actual perpetrator of abuse—just his or her employer.

 

All this does it set up a two-track system of justice.  If someone is from a family that can afford to send their children to private schools or participate in club sports, then SB 131 may provide them relief.  On the other hand, if someone is poor or less well off, and they go to public schools and public daycare or participate on city-sponsored sports teams, they get nothing.

 

SB 131 is also a major retreat in how state government deals with child sex abuse.  In 2008, the Legislature unanimously passed SB 640 (Simitian), which eliminated any distinction between public and private victims of child sex abuse, starting January 1, 2009.  SB 131 would turn that policy of non-discrimination on its ear and tell victims who were abused in public schools that they are second-class citizens.

 

With Latino children comprising the majority of K-12 public school students in California, this is an unacceptable double standard.  It’s why we have opposed SB 131, along with the California Association of Private School Organizations, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, the California State Alliance of YMCA’s, the California Council of Non-Profit Organizations, the California Catholic Conference, USA Swim and dozens of private schools, religious groups and non-profit organizations throughout the state.

 

Victims are entitled to equal justice and equal protection.  Until SB 131 is amended by Sen. Beall to allow public sector victims access to the courts under the same terms and conditions as private victims, we believe anyone concerned about fairness should oppose this bill.

Ed’s Note: Victor Garza is Chair of the La Raza Roundtable de California. Rose Amador is a La Raza Roundtable Board Member.

 


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