David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Eliminate Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse

He was eight when it first began.
The sexual abuse continued until he was 13 years old.

He is 30 years old now recounting this ‎to me in vivid detail.

He knows who his molester is, knows where he lives,
that he is married with several children living and freely walking the streets of New York City.

Walking freely. Those are the key words.

This young man, the victim, is free to walk anywhere he wishes but he does not live freely like his abuser does.

He is neither emotionally nor physically free.

He can recount in detail the multiple times he was sexually abused as a child over five years. These images have remained with him ingrained into his psyche, is the cause of and permeates his lack of self-confidence and his struggle with religion.

Sexual abuse led him to a destructive path of drug use.
He knows this to be true because he began to use drugs at 13 shortly after the abuse stopped when he felt abandoned.‎

He hadn’t disclosed it to anyone, no one could help him, even his abuser abandoned him. Drugs were his comfort. The more and stronger the drugs the greater the comfort. Hence, a straight line from being sexually abused as a child to a drug addiction as an adolescent.

Today, this 30-year-old young man is in recovery, he has a job, is free to walk the streets like his abuser but is far from being free of his seared emotional wounds and continued fear of his vulnerabilities. His therapist is helping him learn life skills that he missed absorbing as an adolescent.

Fifteen years ago ,‎in one of my many conversations with victims, a 35-year-old woman shared with me the story of her abuse at age 15.

Her abuser was a youth leader ten years older than she.
She not only described how he abused her she recounted exactly the day and time, a Shabbos afternoon, the clothing she was wearing, even how he smelled.

Though she was married with two children when she called me,‎ she still vividly remembered his smell. ‎She never told her parents or husband the story of her abuse she was too embarrassed.

Why did she call me? She was seeking help because every time she and her husband were together in bed her mind brought her back to her abusers smell. Not her husband’s smell, her abuser’s smell. Even after bearing two children with him.

She is now 50 years old and still living with the memories.

In biblical times, G-d decreed a jubilee year (Leviticus 25:10)‎. Every 50th year whoever had acquired a slave had to set them free. All people including slaves were to have the freedom to move about as they please at least once in life.

Many victims of sexual abuse have the geographical freedom to move about as they please but seemingly not the emotional freedom or freedom from thought.

How can we change that?

Surely, time, therapy, resilience and life circumstance has enabled ‎many victims to live a normal and healthy life, physically, emotionally, sexually. Yet, that still deprives them of a most basic right, justice. Not vengeance, justice.

Laws concerning prosecution of sexual abuse vary from state to state and within each state the statute of limitations are specific to the type of abuse, length of time perpetrated, age of abused and abuser at the time and other factors.

Some types of sexual abuse may ‎be brought to prosecution ‘forever’ while many forms of abuse must be claimed by the victim up to five years or ten years after s/he reaches 18 years of age.

By now it is well understood that many victims have not only not disclosed their abuse when it took place a sizable percentage have never disclosed it even years and decades later. That doesn’t mean they forgot it or who their abuser was. Oftentimes, they may see him or hear of him in their neighborhood.

We have read countless such publicized examples involving the Catholic Church, Horace Mann, Yeshiva University High School amongst others. ‎Victims not disclosing their abuse for several decades and the criminal statute of limitations have expired. Yet, when one victim steps forward many others do so too only to be disappointed they are powerless to proceed with any prosecution.

Eliminating the statute of limitations on all types of sexual abuse similar to murder could work both as a deterrent and give victims the freedom to prosecute any time they feel prepared to face their molester, the man who so violently changed their life.

I have previously recounted the story of the 70 year old woman who contacted me from her hospital bed.

She had read an article I had written on sexual abuse and that victims don’t disclose for many years. She told me she finally wanted to tell someone her story after 55 years.

She was molested by an uncle at a family wedding.
She never told her parents who couldn’t understand why she was reluctant and unhappy to attend future family gatherings.

55 years had passed and she recounted it for the very first time. She felt telling a stranger made her feel better.
She still didn’t want to tell her children.

Irene Garza disappeared 55 years ago in McAllen, Texas. She was found days later in a shallow ravine.

John Feit a local priest was the primary suspect since it was known she went to his church for confession and was seen or heard from after. The case could never be proven.

Today, 55 years later John Feit 83 years old was charged with murder.

Are there victims who may never decide to prosecute their molester? Likely yes.

But there remain a significant majority knowing that absent any statute of limitations to prosecution would not only provide them with the emotional comfort it could greatly embolden their self-esteem. It is power reversed. The abusers power over his victim now reverts to the victim. Imagine walking on the street and seeing your molester now, knowing years and decades later that he could be arrested, prosecuted, jailed any time his victim wishes.

Who’s walking with that strut now?

A jubilee year. At least once in a lifetime every person is entitled to be free even from their emotional slavery.
‎Eliminating statute of limitations on all forms of sexual abuse will accomplish that.

Murder of the body has no statute of limitations in every state. Similarly, murder of the soul should be the law in every state.

A woman should not have to smell her abuser 15 years later. She should only smell her husband’s scent.

Let freedom ring truly has many meanings. Even 55 years later.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.