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Monday, December 11, 2023
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UB hosts panel discussion on Child Victims Act

Former Olympic speed skater Bridie Farrell discusses her childhood abuse to spread awareness of newly passed legislation

<p>NYS Assembly Member Sean Ryan, It Happened to Alexa Executive Director Kate Fowler and former Olympian Bridie Farrell discuss the Child Victims Act at UB.</p>

NYS Assembly Member Sean Ryan, It Happened to Alexa Executive Director Kate Fowler and former Olympian Bridie Farrell discuss the Child Victims Act at UB.

Note: This article contains sensitive content about sexual assault which may be triggering.

UB held a panel discussion on Monday to raise awareness for child sex abuse and discuss New York State’s recent Child Victims Act.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (D/WF-Manhattan) proposed the bill in January, but similar bills have been introduced as early as 2006 and continuously voted down. The New York State Assembly and Senate passed the bill early this year and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law on Feb. 14. The act extends the statute of limitations for criminal cases of childhood sex abuse until the victim is 28 years old and for civil cases of childhood sex abuse until 55 years old. Victims who feel they were time-barred now have a one-year window to file a lawsuit. 

Olympic speed skater Bridie Farrell, UB associate law professor Christine Bartholomew and NYS Assembly members Sean Ryan and Monica Wallace spoke to roughly 40 attendees for the one-hour event to examine the impact of the recent act.

Farrell discussed her experience as a child Olympian, where she said she endured “countless instances of molestation” at 15 years old. Farrell specifically addressed her experiences with speed skater Andrew Gabel, and how she came forward in 2013 and said Gabel molested her while preparing for the 1998 Olympic trials.

At the time of the alleged assault, Gabel was 33 years old.

“One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by the [age] of eighteen and [don’t] tell anybody,” Farrell said. “I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think people would take my word over his.”

In 2013, Gabel admitted to having an “inappropriate relationship with a female teammate” but said this did not include sexual relations. He issued a public apology and resigned from both U.S. Speedskating and the International Skating Union.

“Everyone deserves the same right I have, to hold a microphone and tell their horrific story, no matter what their story may be,” Farrell said. “Even if it’s their addiction to sports, education, a bottle or to a needle, it’s their right to talk.” 

Wallace discussed the recently-proposed CARE Act, or Child Abuse Reporting Expansion Act, which will mandate any adults in direct contact with children to report known instances of abuse.

“What the CARE Act does is ensure that certain classes of individuals, including clergy, are required to report any child abuse known to them,” Wallace said.

Bartholomew said the Child Victims Act is a “step in the right direction,” but said there is still work to be done to close the “loopholes that currently exist.”

“Now we need to ensure that the victims have the ability to win these cases when litigated,” Bartholomew said. “The proposed CARE Act is a crucial component for these cases to succeed because it will provide essential information that is otherwise withheld, typically.”

Bartholomew said she believes the CARE Act will prevent clergy from using “penitent privilege” in order to cover up institutional wrongdoings.

At the end of the panel discussion, Farrell urged audience members to “tell three people” about the discussion to help spread awareness and start a conversation.

Madison Nash, a first-year law student, said the discussion was a great way to talk about a sensitive issue and described the event as “eye-opening.”

“I thought it was great to hear about all of the changes that the state legislature has made, and is continuing to make, in favor of children and prior individuals who have been subjected to sexual abuse,” Nash said.

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