Sad Doesn’t Fill The Gap

It was announced that patron of the arts, Agnes Gund, sold a Lichtenstein for $150 million so she could put $100 million to work. Not too shabby.

Ms. Gund is confirming that sale now, revealing that she parted with the painting (for what was actually $165 million, including fees) for a specific purpose: to create a fund that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.

This new Art for Justice Fund — to be announced Monday at the Museum of Modern Art, where Ms. Gund is president emerita — will start with $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein.

“The larger idea is to raise awareness among a community of art collectors that they can use their influence and their collections to advance social justice,” said Darren Walker, the Ford Foundation’s president. “Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.”

Which is it? Criminal justice reform or social justice? They are not the same thing.

Fabio Cotza was the victim of sexual abuse by his cousin. He tells his sad story to make a point.

But I decided that after 20 years of silence and fear I had to face what happened to me. I was 28 when I finally told someone that I had been sexually abused. But the law told me that I was five years too late to seek justice.

That’s because, in my home state of New York, many survivors have only until age 23 to come forward and file charges against their abusers, thanks to a five-year statute of limitations for sexual abuse crimes that begins at age 18. This is one of the narrowest windows in the nation.

The statute of limitations for sexual abuse had been a straight five years, as it was for every felony except murder. It was subsequently amended to create a second window when the victim reaches the age of majority.

As a survivor, my hope is that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Senate will remedy this. They should follow the lead of the State Assembly, which on June 7 passed the Child Victims Act, a bill that would extend the time victims have to bring a case.

Among other changes, it would give victims like me, who are 23 or older, and whose claims are banned by the current statute of limitations, a one-time, one-year window during which we would be allowed to file civil charges against our abusers.

The New York Assembly is Democratic while the Senate is Republican, which safely allows the Assembly to pass all manner of laws that have no chance whatsover of becoming law. It’s a great re-election game, as representatives can point to their good deeds while knowing that they will never screw up the system for real.

Discouragingly, in April, State Senate Republicans not only refused to hold a committee vote on a version of the bill, they moved it to a separate committee, avoiding further debate and a vote. “The State Senate spat in the face of survivors,” said the sponsor of the bill, Senator Brad Hoylman.

About now, the astute reader is either laughing at the pandering cynicism or banging her head on the nearest hard surface at the incomprehensibility of the argument. A “one-time, one year window”? You got a five-year window. You failed to use it. So you want a second Mulligan because you whiffed on your first?

But then there’s the shift from the criminal statute of limitations to the civil cause of action. These aren’t “civil charges,” but a suit for damages. If that’s what you want, let the Lege pass a law giving all “survivors” a dozen lottery tickets for free. Hey, you never know.

Opponents of legislation that could offer survivors access to the legal justice they deserve would have us believe that survivors’ memories are fabricated, or misremembered, to defame the accused. But these are worn-out arguments that are used to justify outdated laws that protect abusers from any accountability and completely ignore reality.

Believe the survivor, because anything else is a “worn-out argument” to protect abusers from justice.

To be sure, in some cases, the passage of time will mean memories are unclear and evidence is insufficient. That should be for prosecutors and courts to decide on a case-by-case basis, as they do in most other matters that don’t involve sexual assault.

And we’re back to criminal law, because having been a victim of childhood sexual abuse does not make one knowledgeable about law, even if the New York Times finds the story sad enough to earn its real estate.

It’s unjust that, for those of us who can put the necessary pieces together to bring forward a case after years of debilitating silence, the law tells us, “Sorry, too late!” based on an arbitrary number of years.

There is no sad story that can’t make one feel that the law is arbitrary, but then, without lines, there is no law, just the feelings of injustice of the victim who sat around for five years after reaching the age of majority and did nothing.

We owe survivors more time to pursue justice. Abusers should not be able to run out the clock.

Nobody “ran out the clock.” You failed to act. But then, this is social justice in action, the injustice to “survivors” based on sad stories and excuses. If the social justice rhetoric won, more people would go to prison, incapable of mounting a defense decades later.

Mrs. Gund’s* exceptional generosity is wonderful, but a decision needs to be made. Will this money go toward reforming criminal law, reducing incarceration, or will it go toward social justice and creating bad law that puts more people into prison? Sad stories are sad, but don’t let the tears blind you to this conflict.

*Yes, she get to be addressed as Mrs. Gund. Contribute $100 million to reforming crim law and you deserve the honorific.

13 thoughts on “Sad Doesn’t Fill The Gap

  1. B. McLeod

    There’s got to be an “expert” out there to explain why “survivors” can’t act in a five-year period. It’s why they need a period of “whenever they feel like it.”

    1. SHG Post author

      If there was a crack in the statute of limitations, there would surely spring up a cottage industry of experts for just that purpose.

    2. Scott Jacobs

      There’s got to be an “expert” out there to explain why “survivors” can’t act in a five-year period.

      As a matter of fact, there is.

      1. Black Bellamy

        SHG, some error on your site. When I click on “there is” link in the above comment, I am taken to

        1) I then receive a popup that shows error “403”
        2) I dismiss that popup and receive another with error “forbidden”

        To recreate load page

        Delving further, I see that the 403 error is being caused by file

        I compared another page like this and on that page the PHP file loads no problem.

        1. Andrew Cook

          The blog has some slightly-customized code for adding the math problem at the bottom of the comments form. Because of where the customization is, if the page loads too quickly or too slowly, the blog thinks you’re trying to log in and add your own posts and turns you down. The math problem widget has no idea what to make of this, so it shows those error popups.

  2. wilbur

    Judge Sotomayor very recently wrote, in an SEC case, that statutes of limitations are “vital to the welfare of society”. So there’s that.

    That Mulligan this gentleman is seeking is his first, not the second. The first whiff counts as a stroke.

    1. SHG Post author

      If it’s a stroke, it counts toward his Mulligan. Do we need to call the rules committee on this one?

  3. Jim Ryan

    So you buy a Lichtenstein for say 15 million dollars. THen you donate (part of it) and get a $100 million dollar charitable donation. You apply that to the 50 million (or so) dollars you receive, result NO TAXES.
    Ain’t America Great!
    I’m all for incentivizing charitable donations.

      1. Jim Ryan

        Answer: Not really.
        Note that a good portion of arranging this would , of course, be to have an pay competent counsel for the tax advice and likely also even thinking of it.

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