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New Hawaii Law Gives Sexual Abuse Survivors A Way To Seek Healing, Justice And Accountability

A new law in Hawaii makes The Aloha State a leader in child protection and a bright light example for other states and countries.

On Tuesday, the Hawaii Legislature opened a retroactive window for sexual abuse survivors to come forward and file a claim against their alleged perpetrators, as well as against institutions, businesses, corporations or other public or private entities associated with the perpetrators. The window gives survivors until April 24, 2020, to bring these cases, including survivors who were barred by statutes of limitations before the legislation was enacted. The law applies to all perpetrators and institutions and not just certain ones like clergy and churches.

The new law marks the third time since 2012 that Hawaii has enacted a retroactive window for sexual abuse survivors to bring claims. No other state has so persistently sought to protect children and give survivors a means of seeking healing and justice. Survivors who previously came forward, such as June Johnson Cleghorn and John Pedro, have benefitted greatly from the previous Hawaii window legislation. Cleghorn came forward in 2014 with regard to abuse by teacher Loren Barker at Hawaii Preparatory Academy when she was a teenager. It took her many years to speak out about what happened to her. Her claim settled in 2016.

“It’s a long road that will be with me forever and that’s the most important thing I had to learn, was how to deal with that and not have it be in control of my life,” Cleghorn told KITV in Honolulu recently. She added: “I want victims to be able to come forward because I truly believe if they do, it will help. It may not feel like it at the start.”

Pedro, 69, was sexually abused by two priests, including Fr. Joseph Henry at St. Anthony’s in Kailua in the 1950s. He kept the abuse secret for decades before coming forward, he recounted to KHON2 in Honolulu recently. He encourages other survivors to come forward for validation and to hold perpetrators and institutions accountable.

Many survivors live in secrecy and shame about their abuse. As a result, they often keep it inside for decades before telling anyone about it or coming forward. Window legislation such as Hawaii’s gives these survivors the time to seek healing and justice by filing claims that are otherwise barred by statutes of limitation. It also forces the institutions that protect and cover up the abuse of perpetrators to be more transparent and accountable, in large part through testimony and the release of secret documents never disclosed previously. In this way, the public is educated and children are protected.

We urge every state to implement similar window legislation. Some states have recently, such as Minnesota, whose three-year window expired in May 2016. Unfortunately, similar legislation died in other states such as New York and Pennsylvania recently after pressure from powerful lobbying groups associated with the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and other institutions.

It is time to put the safety of our children first, no matter what.

Note: The new Hawaii law applies to all perpetrators and institutions, not just certain ones like clergy and churches. However, for more information on clergy sexual abuse in Hawaii, please see our report, “Clerical Sexual Abuse in the Diocese of Honolulu.”