Woman Who Says Relative Sexually Abused Her Fights For Other Victims to Sue Later in Life
Kathryn Robb (right) and Steve Jimenez (left) are both child sex abuse survivors who sought justice when the statute of limitations had passed.
It took a made-for-TV movie, a friend recognizing there was something wrong and almost a decade of passed time to give Kathryn Robb the courage to finally talk about the man she says abused her.
It was another five years before she spoke about him again, finally sharing what a relative did to her for years after she went to bed in their Long Island home.
“It’s like a flood, and you’re drowning in the truth of it, and you have to shut it off,” Robb, 57, told InsideEdition.com. “It comes in layers.”
For Steve Jimenez, from Brooklyn, N.Y., four decades of therapy went by before he felt he could confront the Catholic Church about the sexual abuse he endured at the hands of a Xaverian brother in the 1960s.
“For years I thought, ‘What’s wrong with me?'" Jimenez said. “I thought I had done something.”
But for Robb, Jimenez and many others like them, their realizations that they deserved justice came too late.
Under current law in New York State, a child sex abuse survivor has five years after they become an adult — or until they are 23 years old — to bring either criminal or civil cases against their abusers.
“New York has been the biggest battle,” said Robb, an attorney who has worked to extend statutes of limitations in Connecticut and Massachusetts as well. “It’s probably one of the worst states in the country in terms of shutting victims out from justice. And for the past 11 years in New York, I’ve been trying to change the law to make kids safer; for victims to have this little thing called justice.”
The state’s statute of limitations is one of the shortest in the country, and advocates say it’s to the detriment of those who have survived child sex abuse.
They're now hoping New York legislators will pass the Child Victims Act, which would increase the window of time in which victims can bring a civil suit. The state senate has until Wednesday to put the bill to a vote before the legislative session ends.
“You really have to be an adult to understand that you had no childhood, and that it was robbed of you,” Marci Hamilton, CEO of the advocacy group Child USA, told InsideEdition.com. “For the vast majority of victims, it takes decades to come forward.”
Robb was about 8 or 9 years old when the relative began sexually abusing her, she said.
“Most of the abuse occurred in the middle of the night; he would come into my bedroom,” she said. “And I never told anyone... the family, the home is the safe place to go, so [after abuse occurs] it’s no longer safe. That makes it really, really difficult — certainly in my experience, it feels like you are indicting your family. So it’s not like I could run to my parents and say ‘the man down the street raped me’... but to say it’s someone in the family? The family is sacred. It tightens that secret; it mutes your voice even more.”
The abuse came to an end when Robb was about 14 years old, she said.
“It was the first time I fought back. ... He was also abusing my younger sister,” she said of way of explanation, noting she wasn’t entirely sure what made it stop.
Years later, the man told someone he was "playing doctor to someone to minimize it," Robb said.
She found the courage to speak out when she was about 22, telling a friend what happened after reacting to a made-for-TV movie, which had final credits urging victims to seek help for abuse.
"My friend looked at me and said 'what's wrong?' I said nothing and she said b*******," she said. "She saw a pain in my eyes. I opened up with her and then I clammed up. And I shut up for a few more years."
When she was 26, she finally spoke about it again. And then she learned for the first time that her sister had been abused as well.
"She came to me and that opened it up a little bit more," Robb said. "I think it's pretty clear that the evidence is showing it just takes victims a really long time to talk."
Court records show that Robb and her sister sued the relative in Connecticut, where both women lived at the time, in hopes that the state’s more favorable statute of limitations would bring them closure.
The lawsuit was later dismissed over a lack of jurisdiction. The court never considered the merits of the case.
That lack of accountability has left Robb wanting to make the landscape surrounding justice for child sex abuse survivors better.
“I have such a visceral reaction to injustice. It so irritates me whether it’s injustice … it’s not just for me, it’s for the sake of justice. And it’s for the sake of justice that I feel pretty compelled to continue.”
The relative Robb identified as her and her sister's abuser did not return InsideEdition.com’s requests for comment.
Jimenez was in the fifth grade at what was then called Holy Name of Jesus Elementary School in Brooklyn when Brother Romanus of the Xaverian order began what was first thought of as a mentorship, he said.
“The abuse really began in the classroom... then there were outings,” Jimenez said.
Brother Romanus, who died in 1992, brought him to parks, to go ice skating, and to pools as well as bath houses, where Jimenez said he would be abused in shower stalls, steam rooms and even under the boardwalk at Coney Island.
“My parents trusted him; my mom would drive us to the ice skating rink — she’d even get us tickets to shows at Radio City Music Hall,” he said.
He thought the abuse would finally end when he graduated elementary school, but then he received a letter from him the summer before high school.
“He wrote me a pornographic letter. It freaked me out,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t say anything... my mom said, 'Is something going on? You don’t seem to want to have anything to do with [Romanus].’ And I just exploded. I said, ‘I don’t like the way he touches me.'"
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Jimenez felt ready to report the abuse to church officials, he said.
“I had gone to therapy for not years, but decades,” he said of finally being ready to face what happened head-on.
Jimenez said the Xaverian Brothers ultimately offered him a settlement that he accepted since the statute of limitations prevented him from pursuing a lawsuit.
“We found Steve to be credible and we believed his claim,” Brother Lawrence Harvey previously told the New York Daily News.
The Diocese of Brooklyn offered Jimenez therapy, which he declined, he said.
Speaking on the Diocese of Brooklyn's general policy, a spokeswoman said: "Through the Office of Victim Assistance, the Diocese of Brooklyn offers to pay the cost of therapy for anyone who comes forward to report allegations of abuse. This therapy is provided by independent professionals who are unaffiliated with the Church. The Diocese makes this offer soon after a person comes forward and irrespective of the allegation's credibility."
The Xaverian Brothers did not return InsideEdition.com's calls for comment.
“Immediately it was [from the Xaverian Brothers], ‘Why haven’t you come forward?’" he recalled. "I said, ‘This has been with me for a while. I’ve gotten here after years and years of help.'"
Because of this, Robb, Jimenez, Hamilton and other advocates say they have been working tirelessly to get legislators to pass the Child Victims Act bill, which would give survivors the ability to bring civil cases up until their 50th birthday and felony criminal cases until they turn 28.
It also includes a one-year legal window to revive old cases and affords the same treatment to public and private institutions, removing the 90-day period those in a public setting like a school have to formally file an intent to sue from the time they were abused.
The bill overwhelmingly passed the State Assembly, and last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced his own Child Victims Act bill, which mirrors the Assembly’s version.
“This is about justice. Victims should have ability to hold their abusers accountable, something they’ve been denied,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter.
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote to legislative leaders pleading for the bill’s passing.
“After years of emotional debate, this important progress should be the impetus for a final legislative agreement,” he wrote in a letter first obtained by the News. “We need to seize the unprecedented momentum this issue has gained in the halls of the Capitol this year to finally enact real, meaningful reform that will deliver justice to child sex abuse victims across New York.”
The bill now sits in limbo in the Senate, where Republicans for years have blocked legislation allowing survivors of child sex abuse the ability to seek justice — and theoretically have until Wednesday, which is when the official legislative session ends, to put the bill to a vote.
“The Republican State Senate Majority could introduce the governor’s bill for the floor for consideration at any given time,” Sen. Brad Hoylman, the Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate, told InsideEdition.com. “The State Senate Republican Majority needs to listen to the people of New York State; to the Assembly who had passed the legislation; to the Governor... to the State Attorney General.”
The bill’s detractors oppose its one-year window, claiming that such a window could bring forward an onslaught of fake claims that would bankrupt churches or organizations that could potentially fall under fire — but advocates and supporters of the bill say that just isn’t the case.
“I believe opposition to the Child Victims Act is based on, largely, a misunderstanding what happens when individuals have a right to bring a claim... There are states that have successfully passed similar versions of this legislation and to date, there have been zero instances of false claims filed,” Hoylman said. “It’s a persistent myth — that institutions, private schools, organizations, could be sued into bankruptcy. The evidence shows that’s just not true.
“It really confounds me why we treat the survivors of child sexual abuse with such suspicion, and I would argue, disdain.”
But those opposed to the concept of a window have supported it when it comes to victims of other forms of crime.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican who opposed the window in the Child Victim’s Act, has introduced legislation that would allow victims of medical malpractice to bring cases when they discovered the error instead of when the error occurred. The bill also includes a one-year window to revive old cases that would otherwise be unable to proceed due to time passed.
He and other Senate Republicans have also supported legislation raised every two years to extend the statute of limitations to soldiers exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Without such support, those cases would have been needed to be brought by 1985.
“I think it’s sad that a double-standard is being applied to survivors of child sexual abuse," Hoylman said. “These are individuals who had decades of dealing with torment; the most insidious crimes against them literally stole their childhood away. We need to give them the benefit of the doubt, just like we do the victims of medical malpractice; just like we do to individuals who have been victim to other crimes; just like we do to children in every other venue.”
InsideEdition.com has reached out to DeFrancisco for comment.
Even though the state legislative session is scheduled to end Wednesday, Hoylman said he’s holding out hope for the bill, which in its many forms has failed to make it to a vote for more than a decade.
“What I would ask the State Senate to do is to bring the bill to the floor for a vote of conscious,” he said. “Let’s let the people know how you stand on an issue as important as child sex abuse... rather than keeping it so hidden and secretive, without any public accountability. I think it’s possible to convince the Senate to bring it forward for a vote.”
For Robb, she says it’s a simple fact that she was never the same after the first time that family member came into her room at night.
“It changed my entire life. It changed the way I look at anything,” she said. “Still to this day, I have body image issues; it changed my understanding of who I am.”
It’s also changed her perception of normalcy.
“If I’m in a grocery store — this is what happens to the mind; I’m an intelligent, well-educated, three-degree [holding] person, this shouldn’t happen. If I hear a child cry, but I can’t see the child, I automatically think the child is being molested,” she said. “It literally changed the pathways into my mind, the way I understand things.”
Jimenez struggled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts for years, spending his freshman year in college suffering through panic attacks and night sweats that kept him up, he said.
In one instance, the award-winning journalist said he had to fight with himself to not succumb to the overwhelming thought that things would be better if he just threw himself out of a fifth floor window.
“The wounds of this will always be there,” he said. “Beyond feeling frustrated, I’m outraged, I’m furious that [lawmakers] continue to do this. It’s one thing to actually go through the abuse to begin with, but to have this constant opposition and the smugness... when this bill is actually in front of legislators, they can see — this is a form of long overdue relief and it makes sense legally and morally.”
It will also put an end to an endless cycle of shame and guilt that has made it possible for abusers to continue victimizing, advocates said.
“The research suggests that perpetrators have multiple victims and they continue victimizing children sometimes well into their 60s, 70s and 80s,” Robb said. “If we continue with these antiquated laws... if we prevent them from having justice, then essentially we allow perpetrators to continue to abuse children. I don’t think people see that link.”
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