Book Review - Justice Denied

Cultic Studies Review, 7, (2), 2008, 167-168.

Justice Denied, What America Must Do to Protect Its Children

Marci A. Hamilton

Cambridge University Press. 2008. ISBN-10: 052188621X; ISBN-13: 978-0521886215 (hardback), $23 ($15.41 200 pages.

Reviewed by Andrea Moore-Emmett

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the United States’ leading church-state scholars, as well as an expert on federalism and representation. She is a former clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Hamilton is a Visiting Professor of Public Affairs program at the Woodrow Wilson School and the Kathleen and Martin Crane Senior Research Fellow in the Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University. She holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. Hamilton is the author of the award-winning book, God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law, and is a columnist on constitutional issues for

In her new book, Justice Denied, What America Must Do to Protect Its Children, Hamilton makes a strong and solid argument for ending the statute of limitations (SOLs) for childhood sexual abuse across the United States and in all circumstances. Using language geared to the nonlegal scholar, Justice Denied is a comprehensive tutorial into the complex legal maze that affects the issue of child sexual abuse. It is a book every child advocate will want to read and refer to.

Hamilton explains that SOLs are procedural timing rules that determine when one can go to court; and when SOLs expire, she says, the effect is one of “locking the courthouse doors and throwing away the keys.”

In calling her book a “how-to” on stopping child sex abuse, Hamilton begins by explaining how SOLs routinely protect sex offenders, allowing them to go on to find new victims. At the other end of the spectrum, she says SOLs compound the harm done to survivors of sexual abuse by not giving them the justice they need and deserve.

Hamilton says there is a drive to treat childhood sexual abuse as an idiosyncratic or isolated problem rather than the serious and massive national problem that it is. She points to the Catholic Church’s clergy scandal and how it was first minimized and said to be “peculiar to Boston” with its “cultural liberalism.” In fact, as she reminds us, childhood sexual abuse within the Church was found to be nationwide.

In revisiting clergy abuse, Hamilton says there is hardly an institution that has not consciously favored its own interests over the child’s, and that institutions must be coerced to protect children’s interests. In case examples, she shows how the instinct to cover up is strong in both public and private institutions. The law must change, she states, so that it is in the institution’s best interest to turn in abusers.

Calling it “morally reprehensible,” Hamilton explains that the United States’ legal system has structured itself in a way that systematically subverts the interests of children, ignoring and suppressing the needs of the millions of childhood sexual abuse victims over the interests of predators.

She outlines how the states must go about abolishing SOLs and what the federal government must do, as well. By making the child the priority, she insists, these measures would accommodate the needs of survivors, identify child predators in our midst, allow more survivors to come forward, and deter institutions from hiding sexual abuse.

Hamilton takes aim at the insurance industry and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as barriers to eliminating SOLs for their battling against child sex-abuse legislative reform. Other entities she names as also creating barriers are teachers’ unions, defense attorneys (including civil-liberties groups), and an uninformed public.

She declares that legislative reforms to date are inadequate, as are such measures as harsher punishments, pedophile-free zones, and Megan’s Law. Her position is that it will take the elimination of SOLs for what she envisions as a coming civil-rights movement for children—a movement that will bring long-overdue justice for survivors, and that will let the public know who many of the predators in our midst are.

Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008, Page