Sunday, February 8, 2009

Taking On The Battle For Kids (WITH UPDATE MONDAY, 2-9)

I just received an email this past week from former Spokane County prosecutor Don Brockett, urging us yet again to do all we can to stress with our state legislators how important it is to change the criminal statute of limitations on sex abuse crimes against children. Right now the limitation is three years after the child's 18th birthday, or seven years from the date of commission. This is Draconian and ineffective. The feds recently eliminated the statute of limitations altogether for federal crimes involving child sex abuse (when the offense is committed on a military base, for example) because they recognized that it takes time for victims to come forward in these kinds of cases. But the Washington State legislature cannot seem to take any action at all. Every year, there is a bill. Every year, the bill dies. This year apparently there is not even a bill yet, though the legislative session is almost a third over. Don's email tells me that the legislature is waiting for the opinion of the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which meets this coming Friday (February 13) to get that recommendation first. Snails move faster.

Don has worked on this issue for all the five years that I have known him. He is dogged in his commitment to see that this pass. He doesn't have a particular reason. None of his children was abused (though he is Catholic); he no longer is the prosecutor (though he did his darnedest to prosecute these kinds of crimes during the 25 years when he was our county's prosecutor). Best I can tell, Don works this hard on this issue because he's a good guy, he knows it matters, and he won't sleep soundly until it passes.

So what about the rest of us?

It's crazy that there is no passage. It is criminal (or should be - isn't it some form of aiding and abetting?) that the legislature refuses to give prosecutors at least the option of pursuing these crimes down the road, and allowing the victims the time it often takes for them to come forward (after they realize that the shame belongs to the abuser, not the victim). By keeping a lid on the statute of limitations, Washington lawmakers only gift these abusers with multitudes of opportunities to abuse, year after yaer, as long as they can bully and cajole their victims into silence. Patrick O'Donnell, one of the infamous priests from Spokane - he molested a multitude of boys as the Spokane Diocese moved him from parish to parish and even put him in charge of its boy scouts - will never be prosecuted for all that he did in this town because of the state's statute of limitations. This same man made his way to Indonesia back in 2005 after the tsunami to "help" the Red Cross. You remember - the tsunami that orphaned all those children. How did O'Donnell "help" in Indonesia? Without any convictions, he is not a registered sex offender. Did the Red Cross know his background? Or did they think that this ex-priest was just trying to give a hand?

Do we want in this same place 30 years from now, discussing the next Patrick O'Donnell and how he molested without consequence because we never bothered to change the statute of limitations?

Message to legislators: Get over yourselves already. Draft the bill. Then pass it.

Message to constituents: Let your legislators know what you think. Oh, and write to the Executive Director of the state Sentencing Guideline Commission and ask her to recommend formation and passage of a bill eliminating the statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes. Her name is Jean Soliz Conklin. Her email is Do it for your children, and for the children you have never met. And do it in recognition of Don Brockett, who has fought this issue almost singlehandedly for years, hitting his head against the immovable wall that is our esteemed group in Olympia. The legislators need to know that it is time for action. Right here, right now. Right away.

UPDATE: I just heard from Don Brockett. Apparently there now is a bill, Senate Bill 5832, proposing to extend the statute of limitations in certain cases for seven years, to age 28. It's something but not enough. Also, it's strangely at the request of the state Sentencing Guidelines Commission even though the Commission won't be taking a vote until this Friday.

Check out the details of the issue at The best way to reach Don is by emailing him at

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