Arizona Republicans have for decades set themselves up as the champions of crime victims, crafting laws that serve to ensure that those who have been wronged have protections under the law and the ability to achieve as much justice as possible.
Their actions this year lay waste to that legacy, and show just how badly many Republicans have lost their moral compass.
With the opportunity to pass what would likely be the biggest piece of pro-victim legislation in the state’s history – to help our most vulnerable, those who were sexually abused as children – Republicans are instead abandoning the victims to side with the interests of the institutions that allowed predators to sexually demonize children.
Victim’s rights are paramount, but only up to a point. And we now know that point is the moment that justice for the abused runs counter to the interests of the businesses, religious institutions and other organizations that enabled predators and will be held financially liable for doing so.
The allegiance to institutions and business – primarily the insurance industry, which would ultimately pay settlements to victims – was clear last month, when Senate Bill 1101 was debated in the House Appropriations Committee. Republicans on the panel fretted repeatedly about how institutions and businesses would be harmed if Sen. Paul Boyer’s proposal to make it easier for survivors of child sexual abuse became law.
These are institutions like the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts of America or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which to varying degrees have silenced victims and protected their abusers.
That commitment to institutions over victims was on full display on Monday when the House Rules Committee considered House Bill 2746, a measure introduced by House GOP leadership that portends to give victims more recourse.
Except that the very victims who it purportedly helps weren’t consulted before it was introduced, weren’t allowed to testify about it and showed up at the Capitol yesterday to voice their opposition to it.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers dismissively patted the survivors on the head, explaining that the victims really don’t know that HB2746 is better for them than the policy proposal they helped craft and have supported all year long.
“We brought this bill forward to address the need rather than address the demand,” he said.
House Rules Committee Chairman Anthony Kern, a Glendale Republican, gave away the game during the hearing when he said that he opposed SB1101 because it would make it too easy to sue institutions.
“We have a constitutional right to protect businesses,” he declared.
Adding insult to that injury, Kern also effectively said the survivors were being duped by attorneys who merely wanted to “line their pockets” by suing institutions.
Later in the proceedings, Kern questioned why anyone who was victimized by an adult and whose abuser was shielded by the organization that put them in contact with children would even want to sue.
“What amount of money would help the victims of sexual abuse?” he wondered.
If Kern had taken testimony, he would have heard from Gilbert resident Greg Kelly, who was abused by a sitting judge while he was growing up in Delaware. After Delaware expanded the rights of victims to sue in 2009, Kelly was able to file a civil lawsuit against Judge William Bradley. At a press conference before Monday’s sham committee hearing, Kelly explained that he sought two things: an apology and a financial settlement of $1.
For Kern, the mere prospect of the civil courts working as they are designed is enough reason to tie civil justice for people who were sexually terrorized as children decades ago to the whims of prosecutors today. You see, HB2746 gives an opportunity for people who are time-barred from filing a lawsuit to go to court – but only if a prosecutor files charges against the abuser.
And since only 1 in 100 child sex abuse cases ever gets referred to prosecutors, it doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out that tying civil justice to criminal justice is akin to doing nothing.
But Kern said requiring prosecutors to take up a case – with a higher burden of proof than in civil matters – should be a prerequisite for civil lawsuits involving any kind of sexual allegation, because the current system is “scary” for businesses.
After the committee hearing, Kern told me that making it easier to file lawsuits would lead people to file lawsuits without any proof that sexual abuse actually happened. Institutions won’t want to fight any such meritless claims, he insisted, because the lower standard of proof in a civil trial makes it easy for victims to win – thus, sexual abuse claims result in forced settlements.
“If you just make an accusation of a sexual nature, right away, people are tarnished,” he said. Requiring prosecutors to first pursue a criminal case ensures that there is proof, he said.
Boyer, however, calls Kern out for what he is: a shill for the institutions who have for decades knowingly harbored sexual predators and swept their allegations under the rug to avoid bad publicity. To do so, he fabricates a world in which there is no due process, no chance for the accused to defend themselves and no laws against filing frivolous lawsuits.
“That he places more of a care and concern for institutions who knowingly cover up predators within their ranks instead of child victims is disgusting,” Boyer told me. “He wants victims of sexual assault dependent on the state.”
The same can be said about the rest of the GOP lawmakers who are supporting HB2746 and are siding with insurance companies and morally corrupt institutions over victims.
Boyer recalled 2015, when he received Republican support for funding the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, and said he is struck by how his colleagues supported going after the individuals who are producing and possessing and sharing child pornography, but now have hit the brakes.
“Now, all of a sudden when it comes to the corporate side, it’s off-limits,” he said. “They care more about businesses and insurance (companies) than they do about the child victims of sexual abuse.”