Victims Left Behind
The campaign largely led by Child USA and its CEO, Marci Hamilton, purportedly on behalf of child sex abuse victims, is leaving the majority of victims behind.
April 2023 saw the surprising news of the arrest of Florida attorney Michael Dolce on child pornography charges, and his immediate release from the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll, where he had served as the lead attorney on their team representing childhood sexual assault victims.
The firm is one of a corps that has made an industry out of filing lawsuits against institutions with significant financial resources, representing adults who report they were sexually assaulted as children.
Fueling that industry is the Philadelphia-based organization Child USA, its CEO, lawyer Marci Hamilton, and supporting law firms who a mounting number of critics charge are perverting justice by exploiting victims’ abuse to line the pockets of attorneys—while leaving the majority of victims behind.
A number of firms have developed a symbiotic relationship with Child USA and Hamilton, substantially contributing to their campaign to convince legislators in multiple states to pass laws that eliminate statutes of limitations on child sex abuse claims, or offer victims a “lookback window”—a specified period of time, usually one year, during which statutes of limitations are lifted, enabling individuals to bring civil complaints as long as decades after the alleged assault.
And while those far-reaching [statute of limitations] laws seemed to be a welcome recourse for victims, the hard truth is they did practically nothing for most of them.
In 2022, both the U.S. House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill eliminating the statute of limitations for adults who were victims, as minors, of a human trafficking offense, or a federal sex offense, to file civil charges. The president signed it into law in Fall 2022.
And while those far-reaching laws seemed to be a welcome recourse for victims, the hard truth is they did practically nothing for most of them. While large law firms are eager to partake in class-action suits and individual claims against “deep-pocket” defendants, experts in the field estimate that only a small percentage of child sex assault victims were abused by priests or Scout leaders. Former Albany County, New York, legislator and child victim advocate Gary Greenberg, himself a survivor, said that the figure “is actually less than 5 percent” of abuse victims.
Experts have further told Freedom that of those child sex abuse victims who have had the courage to report their claims, most were raped or abused by family members, family friends, neighbors, local residents or total strangers. As those assailants, if identified, rarely qualify as deep-pocket targets, many victims have been unsuccessful in their attempts to secure legal representation, denying them access to justice.
“I took my case to a few different attorneys, and nobody would take it on,” [Tracy] said. “They weren’t going to get a huge payout. There probably wasn’t enough money to be made in my case. Which was not the point for me, personally.”
Tracy,* a New York woman, could not find an attorney to take her case, even after New York opened a lookback window that allowed victims to file civil charges regardless of how long ago the assault took place. During the two-year window, nearly 11,000 cases were filed, almost all by big law firms, and a majority of them against either the Catholic Church or Boy Scouts of America.
But Tracy was 11 years old when a public-school teacher assaulted her. She waited until after she was 18 to come forward, and the teacher had moved away.
“There was so much shame and guilt that’s typical of people that are involved in that kind of crime,” she told Freedom. And though she believes she knows where the teacher is now, Tracy, who was in therapy for more than 20 years, said she couldn’t find a lawyer to take her case.
“I took my case to a few different attorneys, and nobody would take it on,” she said. “They weren’t going to get a huge payout. There probably wasn’t enough money to be made in my case. Which was not the point for me, personally.”
She said her goal in bringing a suit “was the closure, and the naming of the perpetrator of the crime. I don’t want to call myself a victim anymore.”
Another victim, Brian, said he was plied with alcohol and drugs as a young teenager, abused at 16 by a man and later by a woman. Since he also could not find an attorney to take his case, he filed in pro per, acting as his own attorney. Brian has been married 40 years and has three adult children, never telling any of them about his abuse until Christmas two years ago.
When it comes to the campaign pushed by Hamilton, Child USA and attorney firms … [Jason] said, “I don’t think highly of this legal machine that’s going on right now, and as I sit back, I am sad for our country and I’m sad for my fellow survivors because … we’re all being taken advantage of.”
About his inability to find an attorney to handle his case, he said, “I’m angry. It’s impacted my life. I just want my day in court. If I get money out of it, that’s great.”
Jason said he was abused as a member of the Boy Scouts, and while he could get legal representation, he said he knows there are many other victims who could not.
When it comes to the campaign pushed by Hamilton, Child USA and attorney firms leaving the majority of victims behind, he said, “I don’t think highly of this legal machine that’s going on right now, and as I sit back, I am sad for our country and I’m sad for my fellow survivors because … we’re all being taken advantage of and nobody is really concerned about the real problem—which is how can I help you heal, what do you need? Nobody’s ever asking that question.”
Harriett, who was 13 when she was assaulted by her high school principal, told her parents, and though the man was arrested, the trial never occurred because her mother didn’t want her minor daughter to testify in court. Decades later, because that particular school was funded by a foundation, Harriett was able to secure an attorney, but she knows it hasn’t been that easy for others—especially those who can’t get an attorney because their abuser has no substantial assets.
“At this age, in either a man or woman’s life, to finally say ‘OK, this happened to me, and I have the opportunity to tell the world,’ that takes a lot to get that far.
“And then … to be let down like that, it’s just—it’s dangerous. It’s just dangerous.”
Another victim who shared her story with Freedom is Emily, who also feels that the Child Victims Act in her state—as advocated by Hamilton and the law firms that fund and profit from Child USA’s campaign—“didn’t do sh** for me.”
Those who helped write the bills to get laws passed that would be profitable for attorneys but not for most victims, she said, discarded all the survivors.
“It left out a lot of survivors. Is one survivor more important than the other?”
*Freedom does not use full names to identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
Watch for Part III of this Investigative Series: A PROFITABLE AND SELF-SERVING AGENDA