Victims Advocate Fights for Sexually Abused Children
East Whiteland resident Maureen Martinez wants legislation to abolish the statute of limitations on sex abuse charges in Pennsylvania.
East Whiteland resident Maureen Martinez is the president of Justice 4 PA Kids, an organization dedicated to eliminating the Pennsylvania statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. A bill to do just that never made it to a floor vote in 2012 in Harrisburg, but she's hoping 2013 will prove more fruitful.
She was a member of St. Patrick Church in Malvern Borough until 2011, when she learned that a priest there was among 21 facing allegations of sexual abuse.
She answered via email our questions about the legislative process, her goals for Justice 4 PA Kids, and what people should know about childhood sexual abuse.
Malvern Patch: If you could snap your fingers and enact one law tomorrow, what would it be?
Maureen Martinez: Abolishing the statute of limitations for any victim of child sex abuse in our Commonwealth. There are no statute of limitations for murder so why should child sex abuse be treated any differently? Also equally important is a civil two year window implemented to help identify current predators. In California, the window was opened for just one year and 1,000 new suits were filed which identified some 300 more perpetrators. Identifying more perpetrators helps protect children from being harmed in the future. Statute of limitation reform is for the benefit of every child no matter who they were abused by- an uncle, a coach, a priest.
Which PA legislators have been most helpful to you, and how have they helped?
MM: Rep. Louise Bishop, (D-Philadelphia) Rep. Michael McGeehan (D- Philadelphia) Rep. Duane Milne, (R-Chester County). McGeehan and Bishop are the sponsors of two separate State House Representatives bills. Their staff has provided us with a wealth of information as to how a bill moves through various committees and all the steps in this process. Rep. Milne has been helpful in being genuinely interested in this issue. Rep. Bishop has introduced House Bill 237 which would remove the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil lawsuits. Rep. McGeehan has introduced House Bill 238, which would open a two year window in child sexual abuse cases to provide victims with the opportunity to civilly bring suit against a person or entity. Additionally, his legislation would seek to make child sexual abuse an exception to the sovereign immunity defense to allow victims to sue public entities.
What has been the greatest obstacle in getting your legislation moved through the assembly?
MM: Last legislative cycle the bills remained in the Judiciary Committee forever. They finally did move out of this committee and into the Rules Committee and then basically time ran out and The House of Representatives legislative cycle ended. We are hopeful this legislative cycle, the bills will move more swiftly through the Judiciary Committee.
The bills you championed didn't make it to Gov. Corbett's desk in the 2012 legislative session. Do you plan to modify your strategy and/or your goals in 2013?
MM: We do not plan on modifying our strategy. We will continue to write, call and email members of the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the bills and get the bills moving on the path towards the governor’s desk for his signature.
What are some facts or statistics people might not be aware of that underscore the severity/prevalence child sexual abuse?
MM: According to the CDC’s most recent data, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused. Just think about this for a moment: this is greater than Autism which is 1 in 10 children and greater than Leukemia which is 1 in 29,000 children. Autism and Leukemia have no known prevention. Childhood sexual abuse is preventable through education and better laws. The economic impact of child sexual abuse is quite alarming. The nationally acclaimed non-profit group, Darkness to Light has data to support the cost of child sexual abuse broken down per state. In Pennsylvania we spend $139,150,622 annually on costs related to child sexual abuse. The consequences of CSA (mental health problems, relationship and social problems, substance abuse issues, becoming a parent as a teen, compromised physical health and other factors manifested in the aftermath of CSA) many times result in the loss of earning potential over a lifetime, burdening the healthcare system, employers and tax payers.
What are examples of questions that you think parents—or anyone caring for children—should be asking themselves? [Editor's note: Some graphic language below.]
MM: The biggest question a caregiver should ask themselves is has the child’s behavior changed in a way that concerns you? There are many signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse such as:
- Regression to more of an Infantile Behavior (Bed Wetting, Thumb Sucking, Excessive Crying)
- Torn or stained underclothing
- Vaginal or rectal bleeding, pain, itching, swollen genitals, vaginal discharge or an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease)
- Unusual interest in and/or knowledge of sexual matters
- Expressing affection in ways that are inappropriate for a child of that age
- Inappropriately exposing their Body / Genitals at home and/or in public
- Sexual Acting Out / Inappropriate Sexual Play (with Self, Other Children, Adults, Pets, Toys)
- Excessive Masturbation
- Fear of a certain person or an intense dislike of being left somewhere or with someone
- Trying to avoid a familiar adult
- Fear of people of the same sex and/or age of the one who is abusing or has abused them
- Afraid of places similar to where the abuse occurs or occurred
- Overly Compliant Behavior
- False Maturity / Mature Appearance and/or Behavior, inappropriate for their age (Acting or Dressing Older) / Heightened Sense of Responsibility / Devotion
- Unusual / Strange / Inappropriate interaction between a child & a specific person
- Unhealthy / Odd attachment to a specific person
- Change in behavior only around a specific person
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Wearing many layers of clothing
- Afraid to be left alone
- Excessive daydreaming
- Unable to go to the bathroom or refuses to go; more than likely only around a certain person
- Pretending to be sick or actually becoming ill / Recurring Health/Medical Issues
- Loss of or lack of interest in friends, school, sports, other activities,
- Hesitant to Change Clothes for Gym Class
Treat child sexual abuse as a safety issue when talking to your kids. How many times a day do we tell our kids to look both ways to cross the street? Or remind them to put on their seat belt? Maybe every day! Well, then that’s how often you should be talking to them about private part safety. So, buckle up, look both ways, never touch privates, never let anyone touch your privates, if so, tell me right away. The goal is you want your child to feel like if it DID happen to them they will come and tell you right away.
You left the Catholic Church after the abuse scandal broke—is there any action the church could take to bring you back?
MM: This is a tough question for me. I had 12 years of Catholic education. Went to a high school similar to Villa Maria where I grew up in Buffalo, NY. I was a lecture, involved in CYO and received all my Catholic sacraments. I experienced many wonderful experiences in my Catholic faith. I grew up with a priest who said Mass in my parents yard and never ever heard of clergy abuse. However, when I heard of the priest who baptized my children being removed for possible sexual abuse of children I started doing a lot of research and what I found out bothered me a lot.
The fact that the Catholic Church covered up the priests who were sexually abusing children and allowing those perpretrators to be shuffled to another parish to have a new pool to abuse children is hypocritical and inexcusable. I also don’t like the fact that 10% of the money I put in the basket every week goes directly to the Archdiocese and there is no way of knowing or earmarking what that money goes towards- it could be to help feed and clothe the needy (which is what I would want) OR it could also be to pay for attorney’s fees for a priest on trial for sexual abuse (something I would not want my money going towards). People have said to me- “well, then don’t give.” But I want to give, I believe in Jesus’ message of helping those in need. I believe ones life should be about constantly giving -- be it your money, your time, your talents for the better of mankind.
In my opinion, the Catholic Church can redeem itself by showing total and complete accountability and transparency.
What are your hopes and plans for Justice4PAKids in coming years?
MM: To stay true to our mission statement about changing legislation and providing awareness through education. We offer seminars to anyone who would like to listen. We have a bevy of qualified speakers ranging from pediatricians to counselors to attorneys to survivors who are willing the come out to Moms clubs, schools, boy or girl scout troops, churches, camps, etc. We have done 4 seminars since our inception in April 2011 and the more people that can listen to the message, the better. Thirty years ago, when first lady Betty Ford underwent radical breast cancer surgery, no one talked publicly about breast cancer. Now, the pink breast cancer awareness symbol is on a pack of hot dogs buns a Giant and the Komen for the Cure organization has raised more than $1 billion for breast cancer education and research.