The true cost of child sexual abuse

By Nikki Dubose (NY Daily News)
January 15, 2017

After failing to change the law last year, New York State is set once again to consider doing away with the statute of limitations on prosecuting sex crimes against children — this time with Gov. Cuomo hopefully leading the reform charge against a likely intransigent state Senate.

Under current statutes, a victim must seek justice in criminal or civil court by her 23rd birthday, or she loses the opportunity to do so forever.

To understand why this is so perverse, you have to try to grasp the psychological impact that child sex abuse has on those subjected to it.

I was sexually abused at age 8 by a male figure, and then again by my mother from the ages of 9 to 13 until the police removed me from my home. There was a lot of domestic violence and physical abuse, but the sexual abuse impacted me the most. I developed eating disorders, depression, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation. I dropped out of high school and failed out of college twice.

I ultimately managed to get my high school diploma and eventually succeeded at college, but not before I became addicted to drugs, alcohol and sex, and was nearly homeless in my early 20s. I had no direction and zero self-esteem.

It wasn’t until after my mother died an alcoholic almost five years ago and I left my modeling career due to anorexia nervosa that therapy finally helped me to uncover the repressed memories of sexual abuse.

By this time, I had blown through hundreds of thousands of dollars due to my mental illnesses, including the loss of my house. It took everything I had to get better, and with eating disorder treatment costing anywhere from $500 a day to $30,000 a month, I had to search for alternative care.

I hope my experience sheds light on why it is cruel and unrealistic to expect people violated as boys and girls to be emotionally ready to face their abusers by the time they turn 23.

But if that doesn’t persuade the state Senate, led by Sen. John Flanagan of Long Island, to join Cuomo and finally change the statute of limitations, I’d like to make an appeal on other grounds that fiscal conservatives might appreciate: the huge and largely hidden costs to society.

Child sexual trauma is immensely expensive, carrying an average lifetime fiscal impact of more than $210,000 per child, according to the most recent study published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.

That includes the not-insubstantial costs of dealing with learning disabilities and mental illnesses such as depression, suicide, eating disorders and more, many of which result from child sexual abuse.

Tack on other indirect costs, such as depleted jobs and the strain on public health programs, and sexual abuse costs society billions of dollars a year, much of which is shouldered by taxpayers.

I don’t mean to suggest that we can put a price tag on having your soul taken away. As advocate June Busacco of Brooklyn puts it, “No amount (of money) can compare to the brutal treatment” she received as a child. But the unacceptably high price society pays can and should underline the unfathomable pain subjected upon thousands of individuals — pain that society has an obligation to face, not ignore.

I give Cuomo additional credit for pushing to open a one-year window during which those who suffered from past abuse can pursue claims, even as he works to lengthen the statute of limitations going forward.

I have heard the claims from those who say that lengthening statutes of limitations will make it too easy for innocent people to get dragged through the mud. That’s just not true. The high standard of proving a case in a court of law will still apply. The only thing adjusting the statute does is give people who were victimized the opportunity to seek justice.

An old proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” That is how we must view fixing the state’s statute of limitations on sexual abuse committed against children. No one, particularly New York’s boys and girls, can afford to wait any longer.

DuBose is a former model turned author and activist.