Revisiting The Hidden Predator Act

Jessica wrote a couple of months ago about the Hidden Problems in the Hidden Predator Act.  This may surprise a lot of you, especially her, but I agree with Jessica.

Often the worst legislation is made of the best intentions.  This is one of those times.

People who do harm to children, especially those who do so as sexual predators, have committed the worst of atrocities.  They get little sympathy, nor should they.  These crimes carry a stigma in perpetuity.

The problem with HB 17 is that it tilts the scales of justice in ways that open the entire process for abuse, without necessarily protecting victims.  Really you say?  Let’s explore.

This bill essentially ends the statue of limitations on these crimes.  The reason that these limitations exist in the first place goes directly to the right of a fair trial.  As noted, these crimes are among those with the highest long term stigma.  As such, the accusations of these heinous crimes often produce the public perception of guilt. The accuser must often then try to prove themselves “innocent”.

As Jessica points out:

35 years from the age of 18 is a long time. That’s age 53. And that’s assuming that the assault happened during the late teen years. For those who became victims at an even younger age, memories could be dating back 50 years. No offense to my older friends but depending on whether or not a criminal case produced a conviction, I have a hard time believing the case could be adequately assessed with little to no evidence other than “he said, she said.”

If an accusation is made in a reasonably timely manner, one falsely accused would likely be able to produce evidence that may exonerate him/herself.  But decades years later?  Good luck even trying to remember the events of a particular year, much less the minute details that often determine guilt or innocence.

Let’s note that since Jessica wrote her piece in February, the bill has been amended so that the age limit is now 23 years and the only test is two years from the time plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the abuse.  The problem of the statute of limitations being suspended for an untold number of years still applies and is in fact magnified  because they may not technically discover the abuse had occurred for 30 years or longer, but the 35 year window no longer expressly applies in the bill.

From there, the door opens wider.  Wide enough that it can reach all the way into our pocket books.

With the statue of limitations vacated, the potential for civil liability increases exponentially.  The alleged perpetrator isn’t the only one on the hook. This bill is about civil damages. In short, this bill is about expanding the amount of people that can be sued.

HB 17 permits negligence claims against any legal entity whose employee or volunteer owes reasonable care to the supervision of children.  Employers, School boards, churches, civic groups and others would be open to claims from those who recently “remembered” they were abused decades ago.  Think false claims of this nature so a “victim” can profit don’t happen?  Tell that to people like former Falcon Brian Banks.  Now imagine allowing people to go back up to 30 years to manufacture these claims.

We should always have the greatest sympathy to those who have been the victims of abuse.  This extends to those who are still coming to terms years or even decades after the fact. Those who commit these crimes deserve swift justice and criminal punishment.  Nothing in HB 17 would change this.

Instead, HB 17 has the potential to be a vehicle for even greater abuse.  One that allows the courts to be a tool, and extortion of the innocent to be a new business model for the unscrupulous to prey upon the innocent. HB 17 as written is little more than an opportunity for victims to be preyed upon and abused by those who would use the legal system for a stream of new contingency fees.

8 comments

  1. Stefan says:

    For the competing view, we turn to Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) who represents the 180th District:

    “Liberty and justice for all.” These five words that conclude the pledge of allegiance are recited countless times every day across the United States, including every morning at your State Capitol in Atlanta. This is not a pledge that I take passively. As a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, I have taken an oath – one that I reaffirm every morning – to protect and uphold the liberty of our citizens and their constitutional right to seek justice, especially for our children.

    The question that must be asked, though, is do all citizens really have “liberty and justice for all” in our great state? Our political and judicial process is supposed to guarantee that the ideals of liberty and justice are for all, and not for a select few. However, the state of Georgia finds itself at a crossroads today, and we must decide who we are elected to represent: our state’s most vulnerable citizens, our children, or a powerful, well-connected lobby who has inexplicably taken the side of sexual predators.

    The debate which I am referring to is centered upon House Bill 17, the Hidden Predator Act. This proposal would extend justice to victims of childhood sexual abuse who currently have no path to seek recourse due to our state’s archaic statute of limitations for these victims, which lags behind nearly every other state in the country. For them, justice has been denied, and that is simply unacceptable. Georgia must now decide if we are going to aspire to the greatest ideal of providing justice for all, instead of selectively providing it to an elite few. We must demand that blind justice be applied, not selective application of our constitutional rights.

    There are powerful interests that have chosen to stand in the way of HB 17, favoring instead to protect the almighty dollar over taking a brave, principled stand for our children. Who are these pro-child sexual predator special interest groups that are trying to stop this bill and undermine the promise of justice for all? The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the insurance lobby and the Archdiocese of Atlanta are all working fervently behind the scenes to see to it that this proposal never becomes law in Georgia. Why? Because these interests have stated that the Hidden Predator Act is “bad for business” and that we have a “business to protect.” For them, opposing this bill is only about the bottom line on their ledgers, when really it should be about what is best for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

    Put simply, protecting predators, and those who knowingly employ them, appears to be the sole driving interest of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and others opposing this bill. I have faithfully tried to work with them and address their concerns, and HB 17 has gone through over 10 hours of hearings, where it ultimately passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly by a vote of 169-2. The version of the bill that is now in the State Senate provides a path to justice for childhood sexual abuse victims, but the continued pressure from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to change the bill through the back channels of the political process should now be viewed as a clear attempt to sabotage the bill.

    The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is trying to pressure our senators to insert malicious provisions into the bill that would shield employers from accountability for negligently hiring and negligently keeping in their employment individuals who they know to be child molesters. Further, the Chamber has recommended amendments that will provide a level of super-immunity protection to businesses acting in bad faith by conspiring to cover up abuse and protect the sexual predators that they employ. This is disturbing, to say the very least, and these provisions they are proposing undermine the civil jury system that is protected by the Constitution’s Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial that ensures access to justice for all.

    Not only is the very fundamental right to seek justice in our civil courts against the most powerful and well-connected in our society under attack through the Chamber’s efforts to sabotage this bill, but so too are our most vulnerable children. The pro-predator lobby will stop at nothing to protect the interests of their businesses, even to the detriment of the victims of childhood sexual abuse in our state.

    When our legislature caves to the profit-driven demands of the pro-predator lobby in Georgia, we are no longer working to ensure “liberty and justice for all.” Quite the opposite, in fact. If they have their way, we will only ensure liberty and justice for a select few, none of whom are the innocent children who have been victimized by sexual predators.

    It is time to bring liberty and justice back to Georgia’s children, and to reject the efforts of the pro-predator lobby to put profits ahead of morals. Please join me in supporting House Bill 17.

    • Charlie says:

      “There are powerful interests that have chosen to stand in the way of HB 17, favoring instead to protect the almighty dollar over taking a brave, principled stand for our children. Who are these pro-child sexual predator special interest groups that are trying to stop this bill and undermine the promise of justice for all?”

      “Protect the almighty dollar”. At least Rep Spencer admits that’s what this is about. Because his bill doesn’t try to put sexual predators in jail. He doesn’t try to make sure they are arrested or kept from society. Instead, he tries to open up more people to litigation, farther away from when the facts of a case can be reasonably established.

      Morals? Really? The Rep chooses to put himself on a high horse while denigrating profits. Those profits come from the hard work of small businesses that don’t need to choose between hiring an attorney or paying their employees. He also specifically singles our a church – a non profit.

      Rep Spencer cloaks himself in morality over a bill that won’t punish the actual predator, but instead seeks additional venues for greenmail handouts. It’s quite sickening to use victims of the most heinous crimes this way. But it’s what we should expect from a representative whose singular talent is grandstanding.

    • WeymanCWannamakerJr says:

      So opposing attorneys who want the right to sue in perpetuity makes one “pro-predator”? Of course these attorneys want the right to seek justice (money) from the “powerful and well-connected in our society”. They can’t get blood out of a turnip. But of course it is for the chilldrun, even if they have now gone through menopause and the accused is wearing Depends and unable to defend themselves. Getting more lawyers paid counts as justice here in the good ol’ USA.

  2. David C says:

    To no one’s surprise, Governors Ventura and Schwarzenegger are strongly opposed to the Hidden Predator Act.

  3. northside101 says:

    The (Catholic) Archdiocese of Atlanta is a pro-child sexual predator special interest group (according to the Spencer press release)? Well, at least he did not include the (Catholic) Diocese of Savannah among the culprits….look forward to hearing if either of the state’s diocesan bishops plan to comment on that…….

  4. PaulM says:

    “But decades years later? Good luck even trying to remember the events of a particular year, much less the minute details that often determine guilt or innocence.” Yeah, that’s right – it’s always hard to remember which child you raped and when.

    “From there, the door opens wider. Wide enough that it can reach all the way into our pocket books.” Oh…but it’s not about money, right?

    “Employers, School boards, churches, civic groups and others would be open to claims from those who recently “remembered” they were abused decades ago.” Note the use of quotation marks around “remembered.” How grossly misinformed you are, Charlie. It is not a case of “remembering”: it is a matter of finding the courage against incredible odds; of being able to stand up to the further victimization that often occurs when one speaks out; it is finally saying “enough” after years of corrosive pain.

    “Now imagine allowing people to go back up to 30 years to manufacture these claims.” And there we have it – the ignorant, knee-jerk assumption that such claims are “manufactured.”

    “One that allows the courts to be a tool, and extortion of the innocent to be a new business model for the unscrupulous to prey upon the innocent.” How DARE you use the words “prey upon the innocent” in this facile and unconscionable way? Please educate yourself.

    • Charlie says:

      Always nice when someone decides to assume that someone who doesn’t agree with their position hasn’t educated themselves. That’s how we get a lot of folks running around calling others “low information voters” when those folks have different information. Hint: This doesn’t help bring people to your point of view.

      Here’s some education I’m willing to drop on our readers: The Georgia Trial Lawyers endorsed this piece of legislation back on March 12th. I’ll stand by my education and by what I’ve written.

  5. njaffee says:

    Charlie’s opposition to HB 17 is fundamentally flawed. His poorly-reasoned rant is based upon the false premise — without even an attempt to include supporting facts — that many victims of childhood sexual abuse file false claims of abuse. Actually, the opposite is true. Some studies have shown that less than 1% of claims are unfounded. In fact, children tend to understate, not overstate, their abuse. Sexual assaults are the most underreported of all crimes. Moreover, the amendment limiting the age to 23 to file claims favors perps, not survivors. Children do not even have the right to sue until they reach age 18, so the amended bill gives them a 5-year window, grossly insufficient where studies have established that survivors need significantly more time to recover from the trauma of abuse before they are ready to pursue justice against their abusers. Rather than suspending the statute of limitations and widening the door into people’s pocketbooks — the real concern of Charlie’s sophistry — the bill’s 2-year discovery provision provides little leeway for a survivor who carries the burden of proving that she/he discovered or should have discovered the abuse at some time after the statute expired. Courts often construe such discovery provisions narrowly and it is difficult for survivors to meet that standard. Finally, the original version of the bill, which increased the limitations period by 35 years, provided much better protection for adult survivors and, given what we know about traumatic childhood sexual abuse, would have given survivors a fair chance to obtain justice. That Charlie objects to even the watered-down version of the bill is conclusive evidence that he cares more about his “business model” than he does about the fact that more abused children in Georgia will be denied their day in court and that their abusers will remain free to abuse yet other innocent children.

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