By Prof. Marci A. Hamilton, Founder, and CEO, CHILD GLOBAL to mark the first World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence.
We are here today on this first World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence, united by our shared passion to save the world’s children from sex abuse and exploitation. I congratulate the First Lady of Sierra Leone, whose leadership along with Nigeria made this day happen and, of course, the Global Collaborative, especially Jennifer Wortham, for this extraordinary achievement. The prevention of child sex abuse and exploitation is a lofty and worthy goal.
It is also an achievable goal. It will require at a minimum the effort of international, national, and local NGOs, willing governments, the best science and multidisciplinary research, and tenacity. The effort will be worth it, because the devastation of child sex abuse costs society billions each year in suffering, lost economic output, and the destruction of families.
I humbly suggest that one place where we must start is persuading governments to empower victims by eliminating the child sex abuse and exploitation statutes of limitations (“SOLs”). SOLs—the court deadline for pressing charges against a perpetrator or suing an institution–are arbitrary barriers to justice that silence victims and shield those who caused the abuse.
Children’s Rights Against Sexual Violence Need to Be Enforceable Through Access to Justice for Victims
I suggest that we start from the perspective that each child has human rights. The world community has already agreed that children have rights against sex abuse and exploitation in the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child. Articles 19, 34, and 35 list explicit rights to safety and thriving against the forces that would sexually harm them.
Sadly, the United States has not yet ratified the Convention–which is an outrage–but children’s rights are recognized to some degree in our Constitution, and child advocates in the United States are renewing their demands for ratification. So it is safe to say that children worldwide are supposed to be protected by the right to safety.
While these rights are enshrined in the Convention, the facts on the ground in most countries tell us that we are quite a long way from rights that are enforceable. Rights on paper are not worth the paper they are printed on if the rights are unenforceable. I hope that today’s World Day provides the push governments need to ensure that the victims of child sex abuse and exploitation have access to justice. Eliminating the SOLs for child sex crimes is a necessary first step to reaching our shared goal of prevention.
There is a vibrant movement for SOL reform in many parts of the world, including Chile, a leader in SOL reform in Latin America, France, and Spain in Europe, and the United States, among others.
Why is SOL reform so important? Because it yields tangible results that empower victims and educate the public so we can prevent future abuse.
The best science tells us victims face high hurdles to disclosure —
- The trauma affects- psychological and physical.
- Early brain development makes it difficult for a child to understand what is happening to them and how to put it into context. There is often confusion and shame that is abetted by the developing brain’s characteristics.
- Many victims are dependent on, trust, and even love the perpetrator.
- Many perpetrators (and the cultures of organizations that harbor abusers) often send explicit and implicit threats to the victim against disclosure.
Based on my and CHILD Global’s twenty of years of research, SOL elimination benefits the public as well as the victims. If countries eliminate criminal SOLs for child sex crimes in a country, they will:
- Identify hidden child predators and put them in jail.
- Validate victims.
- Educate the public on the prevalence and risk of child sex abuse. When SOLs are opened and empowered, victims teach all of us the fact patterns to identify and prevent it.
If civil SOLs are also removed, the cost of the abuse to the victim will be shifted from the victim to those who caused the abuse.
I am pleased to tell you that coinciding with today’s World Day is the launch of the Global Statute of Limitations Reform Task Force. This is a joint effort of CHILD Global and the Brave Movement. CHILD Global is researching, documenting, and tracking SOLs for every country in the world and building a global dashboard for the public that is in the language of the country and English. Today I am delighted to announce that we are releasing our analysis of the laws of Latin America and our ranking of the countries’ criminal SOLs. This is a tool that can assist governments, victims, and advocates understand each country’s laws and how they fit into the project to enforce children’s rights against sexual violence.
We will turn our attention next to Europe and Africa and then Asia. The Brave Movement will be taking this information to the grassroots, and collaborating with local, national, and international advocacy organizations in the SOL movement for each country. This is an exciting partnership, and we look forward to working with all of you to make children’s rights against child sexual abuse and exploitation enforceable.
Thank you for the honor of speaking today. I eagerly look forward to learning from my distinguished co-panelists.