Letter: Editorial didn’t tell full story of child abuse legislation

Posted 8/15/19

Your editorial criticizes the Democratic Town Committee for “boasting” about the role of local Democrats in helping to pass House bill H5171B, which extended the statute of …

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Letter: Editorial didn’t tell full story of child abuse legislation

Posted

Your editorial criticizes the Democratic Town Committee for “boasting” about the role of local Democrats in helping to pass House bill H5171B, which extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims. It also minimizes this intense effort to protect victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Your editorial claims that the bill had “broad support from all parties” and implies that this was an easy vote.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The two most powerful people in the State House, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominic Ruggierio, did not even want to bring this bill to a floor vote. The bill was also opposed by one of the most powerful institutions in the state, the Roman Catholic Diocese. If passage of this bill was so easy, as you suggest, the bill would have been signed into law years ago, like similar bills in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Instead, at the end of the legislative session last year, as reported by Katherine Gregg of the Providence Journal, the bills were killed by the leadership at the very end of the session. This forced the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to have to testify for a second time this year when the bills were re-introduced. Again they had to repeat the wrenching details of their abuses in public testimony.

At the end of the legislative session this year, it seemed like the bills would fail yet again due to intense lobbying by the Diocese. But reporting by Amanda Milkovits of the Boston Globe, a public challenge to the Diocese by survivor Ann Hagan Webb, the tenacity of her sister, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D- South Kingstown), and the challenge to Speaker Mattiello’s power by progressive Democrats finally achieved passage of the bill.

For the progressive Democrats who championed this cause last year, only to witness the betrayal by Speaker Mattiello at the very end of the 2018 session, this became one of the issues that motivated the formation of the “Reform Caucus.” For their audacity in challenging the Speaker, these members were quickly stripped of committee assignments, leadership positions and even office space in retribution.

But I am sure that not one regrets their support of this effort for the last two years, regardless of the price exacted. And I am sure that most survivors of childhood sexual abuse deeply appreciate their efforts, even if the new laws may not be able to benefit them personally.

Judith A. Byrnes
Newport 

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.