New VA Law Gives Victims More Time to Sue Sex Predators

By Elizabeth Vandenburg
The Patch
July 7, 2011

In 1965, Father William Reinecke, a parish priest in Alexandria, sexually abused 8-year-old Becki Ianni. At one point, the Burke resident now recalls, this occured as she sat on his lap watching television in her family’s basement while her mother prepared dinner upstairs.

The abuse went on for "a few years," said Ianni, who is now 53. She carried this secret for 41 years, deeply burying the memories until 2006, when she remembered the abuse and told her husband and therapist.

Last January, Virginia legislators also heard her story, when she testified in support of legislation that increases the time limit under which victims of sexual abuse can file civil suits.

HR 1476, which passed and was signed into law by Gov. Robert McDonnell on April 15, took effect July 1. With this new law, victims can sue their abusers up to 20 years from the time of the incident, after the victim turns 18 years old or after the victim recalls the abuse. Previously, the statute of limitations was two years.

Virginia Del. Dave Albo, (R-42nd) who sponsored the bill in the House of Delegates, told the Burke Connection: “If someone molests a child, victims can now sue the perpetrator for the pain and suffering [they’ve endured] even if they don’t realize what was done to them was wrong and illegal until they get therapy.”

In the U.S. Catholic publication, church officials argue that state limits on child sex abuse cases are so varied that it makes for a “confusing picture.”

Reinecke was the parish priest for St. Mary's Catholic Church in Alexandria beginning in 1965 and left the church in 1969. He also served at St. Ambrose in Annandale and St. James in Falls Church.

A year after graduating college, Ianni married her husband and settled in Burke to raise their four children, now ages 28, 27, 23 and 21.

In 2006, while looking through old family photo albums, Ianni found a picture of Reinecke and herself, age eight or nine, sitting on a sofa—a picture that changed her life.

“When I saw that picture, I felt sick to my stomach,” she says. “And I got very agitated.”

A few days later, she experienced flashbacks of the sex crimes perpetrated against her. She immediately told her husband and a therapist.

The buried memories and trauma came rushing out, she says, and from that day forward, she has walked a bumpy road to health and healing.

Ianni says she feels lucky that right away she found refuge with a group called SNAP, Survivors of Those Abused by Priests.

Founded several years ago in response to the public awareness of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, SNAP is described on their website as the largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others). They are an independent and confidential organization, with no connections with the church or church officials.

Currently Ianni serves as SNAP’s Virginia state leader and the Northern Virginia Co-Chapter Coordinator. She stresses that assistance is available for victims from any religious background.

From her first phone connection with SNAP, she recalls, she felt “supported, heard and important.”

For her healing journey, Ianni says she filed a police report against Reinecke, which she knew was a symbolic process. (Reinecke, who committed suicide in 1992 days after being accused of abuse by a former altar boy, was one of 31 Washington-area priests identified in a Washington Post investigative report documenting the whereabouts of priests accused of abuse.)

In 2007, she told her story to the Arlington Diocesan Review Board which called her allegations "credible." Ianni says she asked them for a written apology and an announcement in the Arlington Catholic Herald newspaper. She also received a cash settlement from the Diocese.

During her testimony last January in Richmond, Ianni recalls telling the lawmakers how Reinecke told her, "I would go to hell if I told anyone." She said she thought it was her fault. "I thought I was a bad, silly little girl and I was being punished."

The healing is not just focused on her. These days, she works tirelessly on behalf of all victims of sexual abuse, known and unknown, in Northern Virginia, across the United States and now in Europe through her SNAP membership.

Ianni admits she still has a lot of healing still to do, but that the guilt and shame lessens over time especially by working with others in the SNAP movement.

"I was victimized," she says, "but it’s not who I am; it does not define me."

"The best thing I ever did for my healing was to join SNAP," Ianni says. "SNAP is my second family—they make me feel normal."


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