Sex assault victims speak at community board meeting
by Benjamin Fang
Apr 19, 2017 | 6109 views | 0 0 comments | 133 133 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bridie Farrell
Bridie Farrell
Former Assemblywoman Margaret Markey was a longtime champion of the Child Victims Act, a bill that would eliminate the age limit to bring charges against sex abusers and open a one-year window for past victims of sexual assault to file civil suits.

Despite several attempts to pass the legislation, including a late push in 2016, the bill never became law. Markey was unseated last fall in the Democratic primary.

But survivors of sexual abuse have not given up. Last Wednesday during a Community Board 5 meeting, two victims shared their emotional stories in an attempt to revive momentum for the state legislation in Albany.

Connie Altamirano, who has previously lived in Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood, said she was first abused when she was a toddler by her step-grandfather. It didn’t stop until she was in the second grade.

When she told her grandmother, she beat her and called her a liar, Altamirano said. Even after the victim told her mother and called the 104th Precinct, she remained in the house with her abuser.

Now 43 years old, Altamirano said she’s lived in fear her whole life.

“The traumas you go through, physically and emotionally, and you get threatened that they’re going to kill you if you say something, is the hardest thing,” she said. “Anyone here who is a parent, grandmother or a teacher understands that children should be safe, loved and cared for.

“I’m a child who fell through the cracks,” Altamirano added. “I’ve been trying my best to heal and be better, but it’s a struggle.”

The current state law gives victims until the age of 23 to report the abuse. Altamirano said every victim she’s met is at least 40 years old, so they can’t take legal action according to the law.

“We live in fear, and we’re not able to talk until we’re after 40, so what good is the law that the statute is 23?” she said. “I need it to be eliminated but I don’t do it for me, I do it for the future of victims.”

Nancy Lorence, an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, said the abuse can happen in “all settings,” including with family, friends or institutions. Victims often wait until they’re older to report or share their experiences because they feel “horrible guilt and shame.”

Another reason is that perpetrators sometimes threaten to abuse a sibling or other family members, Lorence said.

“All of this is to silence the victim and survivor,” she said. “Our laws protect the predator and play on the fact that the victim will have shame and guilt and feel the threats of the perpetrator to not say anything about it.”

Lorence compared New York’s law with that of Mississippi and Alabama, neither of which are considered progressive states.

“Our laws are as bad as the worst laws in the country,” she said.

Bridie Farrell, who was a nationally competitive speed skater from Saratoga Springs, said she was molested by Olympic speed skater Andy Gabel, who later went on to become president of U.S. Speed Skating.

“Andy Gabel molested me over 100 times leading up to the 1998 Olympic trials when I was 15,” Farrell said. “We were at the World Championships at Sheffield, England, and he grabbed me by the collar and asked if I had told anyone.”

According to Farrell, Gabel admitted to his actions in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. After Farrell spoke to the chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, he told her to go back to New York to press charges.

By that time she was 26 and it was too late.

“Had I spoken, I would’ve been pulled out of speed skating,” she said, “and that was all I cared about at the time.”

Both victims urged the board to take action, especially by asking their state representatives to vote in favor of the Child Victims Act.

Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, who took over Markey’s seat in the Assembly, indicated support for the law, but said he would have to see the specifics. He said Markey’s bill had loopholes, but they were later removed.

“I’m for victims receiving justice,” Barnwell said in an email. “I’m for increasing the statute of limitations giving victims more time to bring suit.”
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