Chaminade sexual abuse survivor advocates for Child Victims Act

Rebecca Klar
Brian Toale said he was abused as a Chaminade High School student. Now he's an advocate for the Child Victims Act. (Photo courtesy of Brian Toale)

As a senior at Chaminade High School, Brian Toale said, he was sexually abused by a faculty club adviser.

He did not get closure until about four decades later, when he wrote a letter to Chaminade, he said.

While Toale said Chaminade’s response read more or less like an acknowledgment of receipt, it wasn’t the response that spawned his closure.

“You live with this feeling like you’re guilty, you’re ashamed of your actions, you don’t want anyone to know about it …” Toale said. “When I wrote the letter to the school what I was doing was saying this shame that I lived with my whole life I now realize it doesn’t belong to me and it never did, and I’m handing it back to those adults at the time that were responsible.”

Toale is now an advocate for passing the Child Victims Act, which would expand the criminal statute of limitations to sex abuse victims who are up to 28 years old and the civil statute of limitations to victims up to 50 years old.

The bill has passed the state Assembly five times, but the state Senate has not put it to a vote.

For the first time the Child Victims Act was included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal this year.

The bill also has support from 90 percent of New York state voters, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Toale, who was heading to Albany to lobby on Tuesday, said expanding the statute of limitations is a critical piece to the puzzle.

He said many survivors, like himself, are not comfortable coming forward right away.

Toale said the faculty adviser who abused him blackmailed him into staying quiet.

After touching Toale inappropriately one day, the adviser told him “you should never have let me do that to you because I own you now,” Toale recalled.

Toale said the adviser told him he had to do everything he said or else he would tell his friends and family.

Toale said at the time he wanted to stay quiet, finish out the remainder of his senior year, graduate and put the incident behind him.

Unfortunately, due to the abuse, Toale said, he fell behind in preparing for college.

In a statement, Matt Markham, director of communications at Chaminade High School, said the school takes any allegation of abuse seriously.

Markham added that the staff and faculty consider the “safety of those entrusted to our care our most important responsibility,” and said that any “allegations of this kind are forwarded to law enforcement.”

Markham did not refer to Toale specifically.

The subsequent years were filled with addictions and difficulty holding a job, Toale said.

It was not until about 20 years after his high school abuse while in a 12-step recovery program that Toale connected his problems to the abuse he had endured, he said.

“I started hearing people in the room talking about what their childhood had been like and I’m saying to myself I can relate on every level … I have these behaviors and these feelings but I don’t have the trauma, my parents never beat me,” Toale said. “And then it just dropped back into my mind that year in high school.”

Briane Toale’s yearbook photo from 1971 as a Chaminade High School student.
(Photo courtesy of Brian Toale)

Not only had it taken Toale about 20 years to come to terms with his abuse, it also took him another few to be able to process it and come forward, he said.

At that point, he heard from the district attorney that his abuser had died, he said.

Regardless, Toale would have been long outside of New York state’s statute of limitations.

He is not alone.

Toale said many victims do not come forward until their 40s if not later.

“If you can’t bring a lawsuit against someone, if you can’t charge them with a crime, you can’t expose them,” Toale said. “And if you don’t expose them they’re going to keep doing it.”

New York’s weak law emboldens predators, Toale said.

He said he advocates for the safety of today’s and tomorrow’s children.

Toale said one of the main objections groups have to the Child Victims Act is a look-back window, which would allow a one-year period for cases past the statute of limitations to be revived.

Since many victims do not speak out until later in life, without the look-back window it will be about 20 years before the act would have any effect on making children safer, Toale said.

“The bill without the look-back window doesn’t help children, at least not for a few decades,” Toale said.

This is the second year Toale has been part of the 12-year-long lobbying effort done largely by survivors and religious groups, he said.

On Tuesday Toale was to be one of about 50 people meeting with lawmakers trying to persuade them to back the Child Victims Act, he said.

This year, in the wake of the #MeToo movement and with Cuomo’s support, Toale said he feels the “ground is more fertile” and there is a potential to change minds.

“I want to try and fix the system,” Toale said. “The law that we’re trying to change protects predators and protects the institutions that protect the abusers.”

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