Dozens of women alleging abuse at the hands of a once-prominent Long Island pediatrician are finally taking their former doctor to court, thanks to the New York Child Victims Act.
According to The New York Times, Stuart Copperman ran a busy and well-respected practice in Merrick for more than 35 years. Few parents questioned his motivations when he suggested their daughters were old enough to see him alone, ostensibly so they could speak freely.
“He was such a charming, affectionate, involved man — we all thought he was a god,” Dina Ribaudo, 43, a former patient who now lives in Arizona, told the Times. “You just couldn’t imagine this bright, shining light ever hurting anyone.”
Copperman allegedly began molesting Ribaudo when she was only 8.
While the New York Office of Professional Medical Conduct received a steady stream of complaints about Copperman for more than 20 years, his license to practice wasn’t revoked until 2000. By that time, he was 65 and ready to retire.
No criminal charges were ever filed against Copperman, and he was never made to register as a sex offender. Now 84, he’s living a comfortable life in a Florida retirement community, where he continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Ribaudo is among 50 former patients now suing Copperman. Their lawsuits would not have been possible without the New York Child Victims Act.
By the time Copperman lost his medical license, most of his accusers were in their 30’s and the statute of limitations on his alleged crimes had already expired. They were also denied a chance to pursue civil lawsuits against the doctor, as New York required that survivors act before they turned 21.
The New York Child Victims Act became law last February. Going forward, survivors will have until their 55th birthday to file civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse, and until their 28th birthday to pursue felony criminal charges against their abuser. The law also opened a one-year-window to allow those previously time-barred claims the chance to pursue civil lawsuits against their abusers, as well as any institutions that enabled their abuse.
“I want my day in court,” another of Copperman’s accusers told the Times. “I want justice to be served, and I don’t think it was. I want him to pay, not necessarily monetarily — I want him to feel the shame that I felt.”
More than 500 previously time-barred child sexual abuse lawsuits have been filed in New York state courts since the one-year window opened on August 14th Most of the lawsuits name one of New York’s various Roman Catholic Diocese as a defendant, while others target similarly powerful institutions, like the Boy Scouts.
Claims against individual medical professionals are rare, even though several recent scandals, including the one surrounding Larry Nassar, a former team doctor with USA gymnastics, suggest physicians are uniquely positioned to abuse children.
According to Marci A. Hamilton, chief executive of Child USA, an advocacy group based at the University of Pennsylvania focused on child protection, doctors – particularly pediatricians – could well trigger the next big wave of abuse claims.
“These guys have incredible access, and prosecutors were disinclined to prosecute powerful doctors,” she told The New York Times. “A lot of these guys got away with many years of abuse.”