CEO, Child USA
Episode 17: Fighting for Justice
The impact of child abuse and neglect can last a lifetime, and yet the statute of limitations puts an expiration date on when survivors can get justice. Marci Hamilton, CEO of CHILD USA, joins us on the podcast to discuss her fight for reforming the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. CHILD USA is a thinktank that examines the best findings from both social science and legal analysis to create the best policies for child protection.
Justice Denied by Marci Hamilton
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast
Episode #17 – Fighting for Justice
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Thank you for joining us. In this podcast, we are real people, talking about real things. Child abuse and neglect: a topic that is all too often left in the shadows of silence, leaving survivors alone, fearful, and oftentimes without a voice. We’re having conversations to become Louder Than Silence. It is here, where we will invite you to join us and be the change needed to end child abuse and neglect.
>> Lori: Hello everybody and thank you for joining the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect’s podcast. I am Lori Poland, I’m the Executive Director for EndCAN and today it is my privilege and honor to have our guest speaker Marci Hamilton who is the CEO of ChildUSA. I mean, we got a request to have Marci speak on our podcast and I was like ‘holy smokes a celebrity reached out.’ I’m just really excited to have you here today Marci. This podcast is real people having real conversations and the people who are listening just want to hear more about this topic. This is a topic a lot of people struggle with talking about. They struggle sharing their own experiences, they struggle hearing about other people’s experiences, and understandably. We’re here to normalize it and change it and open the conversation to discussion and I’m so honored you get to be a part of it. We’re honored to have you here.
>> Marci: Thanks so much. I’m a big fan of EndCAN so I’m glad to be here.
>> Lori: The feeling is mutual for our organizations. You know, just from one human to another, we all have a “why” as to why we do what we do in the world and I would love to hear what your “why” is. You were the founder of ChildUSA right?
>> Marci: I was. Honestly my career has been the least scripted career in history. The very short version is I clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor after going to law school and went into teaching and in a very odd set of circumstances, I ended up in 1997 with a case in the United States Supreme Court on religious liberty and you know, people I’m sure are asking what the heck that has to do with child abuse but it turned out that I became an ally of the only law professor in the country who was on the side of victims of religious groups. I was hearing from people who knew about children dying in faith communities or knew about child sex abuse, those kinds of things. They started reaching out to me and the more I studied it, the more I realized that we have a major problem that we are shutting the victims out of court long before they’re ready to come forward and we’re helping the perpetrators with the institutions that cover up. So I started a website, SOL-reform as a law professor. I was at Cardozo Law School [at Yeshiva University] for 26 years and by the end of that I had six research assistants. I was essentially running a nonprofit so when Penn called me and asked me if I would consider moving I said it’s time I get an organization because I can’t do this anymore with just some research assistants and they were wonderful. I now teach at Penn which I love and at the same time I run ChildUSA.
>> Lori: Wow. You know, when I read your bio and I know a little bit about Rita Swan. Rita is a Board member of yours and yesterday I was listening to a podcast on RBG [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] and Sandra Day O’Connor came up. To be around women who have this drive within them to just get their hands muddy and do the work, it sounds like that’s how this all started for you.
>> Marci: It did. I was all in for doing very fancy constitutional law and that’s what I was doing. You know, I was going to be in the ivory tower. You would never find me again [laughs]. Honestly, I wrote Justice Denied about statue of limitations reform because I thought it was such a no-brainer issue. Why has this not been addressed? Why had nobody written or thought about it? I’m just going to write a book for the public and lawmakers that said wake up. We’ve got to get justice for the victims and my theory is that book would get published, that problem would get solved and I would go back to my fancy high-level first amendment stuff.
>> Lori: How did that work out? [laughs]
>> Marci: Lo and behold, there would be some opposition.
>> Lori: Shockingly. You know, my own experience if I may, I was 32 when I decided to – my abductor and his father in a civil suit had been ordered to pay kind of like restitution but it was through civil court so there isn’t the court backing and protection behind it. So when I was older and I’d gotten my degree, I decided I had this wellness center and this business that I’d turned into a multidisciplinary approach to children and families to come and find ways to heal, right? Really like rehab for the soul and I wanted to open a ranch and a camp in the mountains. I kind of had a little bit of a vendetta against my abductor even though I wasn’t angry at him. This man got off on parole because he skipped Colorado right after he got out. He never paid his dues. Even when he was in prison he spent the majority of his six years in solitary confinement. In an unfortunate way, every time he was in the general population he didn’t get treated very kindly. I don’t agree with that but that was his story but I just thought this guy got away with it. So at 32 I finally, I’d done 11 years of my own clinical work and I’d become a mom and I was just charged up and I was going to take this wellness center to the next level and purchase some property. I’d written a business plan at 15 years old to do this and I was working towards it. I had hired an attorney in California and one in Denver to go after my abductor for these resources he owed to me. There were people very much in opposition saying, ‘You’re greedy, let it go’ and that was fine and if it didn’t work out that was no problem. But it stopped me because the statute of limitations had already passed and the statute of limitations was 20 years. This was a different kind of statute of limitations, right? There’s one about reporting your abuser and I believe, please correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s a lot of the work that you’ve done. But for me the statute of limitations was going and saying he never followed through with his order and it’s time you do. I was told by California and Colorado attorneys, both of them, we’re sorry but there’s nothing you can do. Your statute of limitations ended when you were 25 and I was like, ‘Holy smokes, that was seven years ago.’ I had just started my own work, at 21 I got my own therapist and started my own work but I wasn’t even close to emotionally and physically and maturity-wise, I wasn’t even close to being ready to confront this and address it so by the time I was, to be told no because the law doesn’t have your back, I was truly devastated.
>> Marci: That is exactly what we work on. So we work on the civil statutes of limitations for lawsuits and the criminal statutes of limitations for prosecution and it is exactly that experience. You were so young to come forward. The best science tells us the average age to come forward is 52.
>> Lori: Wow
>> Marci: Right? So here you are, that young, in your early 30s and you were 20 years away from the average age and they shut you down. I was actually involved in Colorado in 2005-06 when we tried to get the statute of limitations reformed and of course it was blocked. As soon as I published Justice Denied, there was a mocking review of it by a lawyer for the Bishops. It was called Marci’s World. You know
>> Lori: Oh my. Look at you, all this power. You have a whole world named after you.
>> Marci: I know! It just cracked me up. I control it, it’s perfect [laughs]. So you know it really turned out the real enemy for victims are definitely the Bishops and religious organizations, so the Mormons and others but the real power is insurance. The insurance industry invests heavily in blocking justice for the victims because they don’t want to pay.
>> Lori: Wow. Unbelievable. It’s like a pre-existing condition in a sense.
>> Marci: Exactly. It’s even worse than that because they have all this data. They know about sex abuse. They’re not going to tell us what they know, they’re just going to make sure nothing more comes out. I’ve really been mano y mano with the insurance industry for a while now. They’re starting to come around because they can help prevent abuse.
>> Lori: Right. I have one person in mind, off the air let’s have a conversation because I want to introduce you. I think they might be able to do something great. You alluded a little bit to what you do at ChildUSA. Just for the elevator pitch, tell our listeners what you guys do and what you’re about so we can understand it.
>> Marci: Sure. So we’re a think tank. We don’t do direct service although we hear from survivors every single day but we put the best social science with the best legal analysis for the best policies. Then we analyze what should change in the family court system, what should change in youth-serving organizations. We put together the programs and guidelines to make the world safer for children.
>> Lori: Who do you do that for?
>> Marci: We have a legal department and a social science department. We’re funded by grants and by private donors so we put all those together for a really wonderful, amazing, devoted staff. We’ve analyzed thousands of cases of the Boy Scouts abuse. We’ve surveyed the victims of diocesan abuse and bankruptcies. We’ve surveyed the elite athletes so that we understand how are they abused. In fact, it’s not just sexual abuse but elite athletes are abused psychologically. My theory from the beginning is, I learned long ago that a fancy law argument will not get you anywhere. You need data that then supports the argument.
>> Lori: Tell me then, do you work to educate and inform the systems like USA Gymnastics and maybe even junior athletic programs and the churches. Do you work with Boy Scouts of America? Just this year we actually started working with them because unfortunately because, and I’ve even said this to my staff, we don’t want to believe that people that volunteer for us are going to harm the people that we’re trying to give voice to and help and support. Believing and thinking that is beyond our conception. We want to believe that a Boy Scout leader isn’t going to cause harm or that a coach wouldn’t. However, from a perpetrator’s perspective, we surround ourselves with the people we’re interested in. So as an organization we don’t want to be naïve. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. So do you work with those organizations to help educate and inform and create policy and systems within them?
>> Marci: First we study. We have now finished a national study of every written child protection policy in every archdiocese. That will be released soon. It’s fascinating. In the meantime we’ve put together 16 of the leading experts in the country in this field to study the Larry Nassar scandal. That’s the Game Over Commission where we’ll be having virtual hearings, kind of like Congressional hearings, October 1st and 2nd. Our goal is to educate the public, victims, children, adults, but also the institutions. What we’re really focused on right now is a broad-based study of all institutions serving children and what is the gold standard. A lot of them will tell you they have the gold standard and they don’t. I don’t even know what that is.
>> Lori: Right I was going to say, how do you know what you don’t know. It’s so hard when you’re in the trees to see the forest and it sounds like what you guys are doing is helping people pull back to that 30,000 foot view and give them some perspective that we wouldn’t necessarily see.
>> Marci: That’s the perfect way to describe it, I’m going to add it to my elevator speech. That’s it, to get the big picture. Everybody just take a deep breath. We know the Church isn’t going away. We know that all of these wonderful organizations that serve children, the Boys and Girls Club, they’ve all had issues but they all do good stuff. So how do you save the good and solve the problem, and that’s what we’re working on. We’re putting together the prescription so that organizations can come to us and ask what do we need. There are 14 points, by the way, so we can say here are the 14 points and we can rank them. Our ultimate goal is to be, and this will date me, but to be the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
>> Lori: That’s exactly what I was thinking. You give the Better Business Bureau rating for the protective system within an organization. Another piece that came to mind when you were speaking a few minutes ago was the differentiation between our current child protection system which predominantly focused on interfamilial abuse and if there’s any coach or teacher or volunteer, person in position of power, abuse, that isn’t dealt with by Child Protection Services at all. There’s no services available, it’s just a legal issue.
>> Marci: Yes that’s right
>> Lori: So you’re really focusing on a lens that millions and millions of people have been affected by.
>> Marci: We need every organization that’s doing direct service, that’s helping this child right now. Our goal is to try to help millions at once which means policy, to put in preventive procedures. The joke in our organization is that when we solve all these problems I can go to a beach and write novels. Don’t be expecting that very soon [laughs].
>> Lori: Perfect. I’m yearning for that though. That’s why we’re here and I feel like we’re in a day and age where it feels like the energy is starting to change. It feels to me, and maybe that’s because I’m naïve and I’m in it and I feel like I’m at the front among thousands. We’re at the frontlines. This is another topic. There are so many worthy topics for us to be talking about. This is another one that I have yet to see anybody disagree with. I’ve never met somebody who says they’re against ending child abuse and neglect. We don’t have very many naysayers however you’ve described there is a population of people that say they don’t agree with this. Really maybe that’s from a power position. It’s about money right? Maybe insurance.
>> Marci: It’s about dollars and image.
>> Lori: Right. Where I feel like the shift is among us, where as a field there’s a lot more interest for all of us to talk and work together so that’s exciting. Then as a population I feel like there’s this gentle nudge where even children are calling their own perpetrators in and saying they need help which would never have happened 50 years ago, ever. If a child called a child protection services agency, or law enforcement, the message was very different than it is now and I think you’re going to be on the beach sooner than you think. I’ve got your back 1000%. My next question is what you see, as this influential woman who’s truly changing the world, what do you see for child abuse and neglect? What do you see as most advantageous for you?
>> Marci: We are turning the corner so that the powerful are starting to stand up for the powerless. The Me Too movement is just a sliver of that and honestly what we’re focusing on now in terms of how you get the message to penetrate into the whole society. I honestly believe professional athletes need to pick up these messages. I think Hollywood actors and actresses need to pick up these messages. It’s not just that it’s academic. This is just part and parcel of everybody’s lives. There’s so much abuse and there still is. I think we’re at a moment where it’s really, this is a civil rights movement for children. They’re not things, they’re persons.
>> Lori: Right, you know I still have a very small private practice on the side because I love doing direct service work. I predominantly work with young girls right now, that’s the theme this year. Just yesterday I have an 11 year old girl who is just in the making of being this voice. She said, ‘why don’t I have a say in my life? I feel like I’m a pretty smart person and every adult in my life asks me to silence my voice because they think they know me better just because they’ve lived a few more years. But I look at you guys and all the mistakes you’ve made and I want to do it a little bit differently.’ I mean seriously, yes, and until they have a voice in the matter and some skin in the game, you know, who are we fighting here for? Let’s include that voice.
>> Marci: There’s this whole mythology about how we all adore and love children but do we respect them as human beings? That I think is where we’re moving. We’re getting there – it’s the courts, it’s creating justice, it’s the statute of limitations. There’s a lot.
>> Lori: The right to have a say in what their future looks like. We’re making major decisions on their behalf without asking them.
>> Marci: What you do is so wonderful. Listening to them. Especially those in a moment of difficulty is so incredibly important. It’s so easy to ignore children. It’s easy to shove them aside and that’s actually, as soon as the stay at home orders hit we became extremely concerned. We started a program called What About the Children Watch because everybody was talking about the adults. Kids weren’t in school, they were getting sick but nobody was talking about the children. If we could just put that one kid at the policy table, we’d have a better world.
>> Lori: I know of at least 100 who would raise their hand to say ‘pick me, I’ll say something. I have something to say.’ Oh I’m so excited. You’re doing great things and I’m charged up. My next and final question would be, what do you need people to do to help you be successful at ChildUSA?
>> Marci: You know, we would love to have more of what we call community ambassadors, so people all over the country that help us spread the message of how to protect children and what to worry about, the latest science. We do a data drop every week, we do a blog post. We have a child sex abuse membership portal which is everything you need to know about child sex abuse. Getting the word out would be fabulous. You can listen to the hearings, it’ll be open to the public. Dr. Krugman will be our opening speaker which we’re excited about. Then, we will have a live virtual awards ceremony and we are going to honor some of the most inspiring people in the world on October 22 so join us.
>> Lori: Great I will tune in. Excellent. How can people find you?
>> Marci: Go to childusa.org. It’s all on the homepage. We update it all the time. We track the statute of limitations daily so we’re the only organization that has all the updated information so just go to the homepage and click Law you’ll get more information probably than you’d ever wanted on statute of limitations.
>> Lori: Wonderful. Well thank you so much Marci, ladies and gentlemen thank you for listening in today to the Louder Than Silence podcast. Our guest today is the CEO and founder of ChildUSA, Marci Hamilton, who truly is changing the world and I am so honored to be on this call with you, to call you a colleague. I look up to you, I admire your work and I 100% of being behind your goal of being on a beach so you can write books [laughs]. So great. Thanks so much for joining us today, I’m Lori Poland, the Executive Director of the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. You’re listening to the Louder Than Silence podcast. Please join us next time for another beautiful voice trying to change the world. Have a great day.
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>>Lori: I want to thank each of you again for joining us today and listening in. If you or someone you know is being abused, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. To learn more about EndCAN, visit www.endcan.org or find us on all social media platforms. Join us in being Louder than Silence and being a part of the change. Please leave a comment, like our podcast, or share with your friends. The more the word spreads, the more of a collective impact we can have. If you have a question or you know someone who would want to be a guest on our podcast, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again, and have a great day.