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«Return to LEAR'S FEBRUARY 1992 By Heidi Vanderbilt A Chilling Report Do you want to know what incest is? What it really is? No ...»

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Independent corroboration: The corroboration of an independent party is required only in Alabama, Arkansas (if the victim consented and is at least 16), California (if the victim consented and is of legal age), and Illinois (if the testimony is not clear and convincing).

Penalties for Incest The penalties for the crime of incest vary from state to state.

• Indiana—imprisonment of up to 18 months, plus additional time for aggravating circumstances, or minus time for mitigating circumstances; a fine of less than $1,000.

• Delaware—imprisonment of up to 2 years; a fine of not more than $1,000

• Kansas—imprisonment of 2 to 10 years.

• Illinois—imprisonment of 4 to 15 years.

• Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana (if uncle-niece or auntnephew incest), Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming—imprisonment of up to 5 years.

• Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana (if other than uncle-niece or aunt-nephew incest), Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin— imprisonment of 5 years and up.

• South Carolina—imprisonment of 10 years and up.

Civil Remedies Many victims don't want to put their abuser in jail. Some want financial restitution for their therapy and for other consequences of the abuse. Others just want a written apology or a court order compelling the abuser to get therapy.

Enter civil remedies. Civil remedies give victims a chance to tell their story in court and to be awarded punitive damages for the pain and injury suffered.

For many victims, just lodging the complaint gives them a sense of empowerment that helps them heal.

Statutes of limitations generally are reckoned from the date of injury and run for a fixed period, often three years. But in child-sexual-abuse cases, the statute of limitations is often more flexible. Thanks to the dedicated work of lawyers such as Shari Karney and Page 54 of 56 Mary Williams of California, these statutes in some states begin when the victim remembers the abuse. The phenomenon is called delayed discovery and is based on the fact that someone who has no memory of an act cannot complain about it.

------------------------------------Reform legislation is imperative if we are to protect children against incest and sexual abuse. We urge our readers to send this letter, or some version of it, to their political representatives at the state level, including governors and legislators.

Dear The children of our state need your help. According to the most reliable studies of the incidence of incest and child sexual abuse in the United States, at least one out of three girls and one out of five boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Research has shown that 89 percent of these assaults are committed by someone the child knows, trusts, or loves. In spite of the crippling damage done to victims, incest often carries lighter penalties than other child sex-abuse crimes. I urge that all the laws in our state pertaining to incest and to any and all sexual assaults against children be reviewed and strengthened, and ask you to take the following steps as soon as possible.

1. Expand the definition of incest in our state in order to broaden the application of criminal statutes. Most states require vaginal penetration and a close blood relationship to establish incest in a criminal prosecution. The definition should be expanded to include any other acts of sexual assault by a parent or family member and any and all sexual assaults by any care giver—including stepparent, adoptive parent, and guardian of either sex—or any other person in a position of authority.

2. Increase criminal penalties for incest and child sexual abuse. Incest and sexual-abuse victims suffer long-lasting psychological and physical trauma. Penalties should be at least equal to those for capital crimes, and minimum sentences for perpetrators should be set by law. Persons convicted of incest and child sexual abuse should be denied custody and/or visitation privileges.

3. Abolish or extend statutes of limitations for civil and criminal cases pertaining to incest and child sexual abuse. Some states have recently extended their statute of limitations for civil cases (see the California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 340.1). At least seven states have no statute of limitations in criminal cases, and legislation to abolish such statutes is pending in ten others. Because the victims are children and because they may be terrorized into silence and/or may repress memories of sexual assaults for many years (studies have shown the average age of discovery to be between 29 and 49), statutes of limitations should be based on the special circumstances of the crime or case.

I ask you to reform our laws and give our state prosecutors and child victims a real chance for justice.

–  –  –

CHECKLIST  If a child tells you that he or she has been abused, believe it.

 If a child tells you the abuse occurred a long time ago, don't assume that it isn't still going on.

 If a child says something vague, such as "My bottom hurts," or is strangely silent or aggressive, ask questions. Don't get hysterical in front of the child. Just ask and listen. Ask why and how and where and what do you mean and show me. Remember that a child's vocabulary is limited.

 Don't try to gloss over the subject. Don't say "It's no big deal." Get help for the child.

 Do not wash the child.

 Save the child's clothes so that they can be examined for physical evidence.

 Take the child to a hospital emergency room.

 Call the local police and the local child-welfare department. If you live in an area so remote that you have no local agencies, call the National Child Abuse Hot Line at 800-422-4453.

 If you remember being abused yourself as a child, or think you might have been, call your local rape-treatment center or mental-health clinic.

 Take whatever time you need to find the right therapist. Therapy is often included under health plans.


 Self-Help Clearinghouse St. Clare's-Riverside Medical Center, Denville, NJ 07834 (201-625-9565) Publishes The Self-Help Directory, a guide to mutual-aid self-help groups and how to form them.

 Incest Survivors Anonymous P.O. Box 5613, Long Beach, CA 90805-0613 (213-428-5599) Assists in forming 12-step groups.

 SARA (Sexual Assault Recovery Anonymous) Society P.O. Box 16, Surrey, British Columbia V3T 4W4 Canada (604-584-2626) Provides self-help information for adults and teens who were sexually abused as children.

 National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence 1155 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036 (202-429-6695) Provides counseling referrals.

 Believe The Children P.O. Box 1358, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254 (213-379-3514) Counsels parents of children who have been victimized outside the family.

 Incest Resources Inc.

46 Pleasant Street, Cambridge, MA 02139 Requests no phone calls.

Provides educational materials for incest survivors.

 National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect P.O. Box 1182, Washington, DC 20013 (703-385-7565) Provides referrals, information, and publications on all aspects of child abuse and neglect.

 National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse 332 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 1600, Chicago, IL 60604-4357 (312-663-3520) Holds conferences and training programs on child abuse and neglect.

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