‘Secrets in our culture’: Victims of child sex abuse urge lawmakers to take action
By Sherman Smith
February 15, 2020
|Kathryn Robb, executive director of Child USAdvocacy, urges lawmakers to take action in response to numerous revelations of the widespread sexual abuse of children.|
Photo by Evert Nelson
Kathryn Robb wanted lawmakers to know about the monsters.
Her voice rising in volume and urgency, Robb delivered a sermon on the evils of child abuse in a legislative hearing Tuesday. She focused fury at coaches, religious leaders, pediatricians and others who have preyed on hundreds of victims apiece.
“Folks who have access to children are abusing children at alarming rates,” Robb said. “So now we’re learning. We’re learning that things were not the way we thought they were — that there are secrets in our culture, there are secrets in our society, there are secrets in our institutions that we’re just now learning about. We are in the midst of a worldwide epidemic.”
She is the executive director of Child USAdvocacy and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Robb and others testified in support of legislation that would lift the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits filed in response to child sex abuse. Current law requires lawsuits to be filed within three years after the victim turns 18.
The change would align civil law with criminal law. There is no statute of limitations for sex crimes involving children.
The legislation would extend retroactively to cover abuse from the past 36 years. Intricacies of past state statute would prevent the filing of civil lawsuits for abuse before 1984.
Robb said legislative bodies make wise decisions based on the knowledge of evolving science. For example, she said, laws now regulate the use of child car seats and vaping.
Society is learning now about the effects of sexual abuse, Robb said, especially when the abuser is close to a child.
She said 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their predator. They are groomed and threatened. The children rarely talk about it.
The average age of first disclosure is 52, and Robb didn’t speak about her abuse until she was in her 40s.
“This is an enormous problem that we have to deal with,” Robb said.
Usha Reddi, the mayor of Manhattan, said she was abused from the ages of 10 to 16 while living in Virginia and Ohio. She didn’t think about seeking justice until 40 years later and discovered Ohio has a statute of limitations for criminal cases.
She filed charges at the age of 53 and won a conviction in Virginia.
“Sexual abuse is about power,” Reddi said. “The perpetrator has power in the commission of the crime, and the victim has the power when filing charges. Having no statute of limitations provides the victim with power to seek justice. It took me a long time before I felt I had the energy and support system to even come forward to even talk about it.”
Susan, who asked not to be identified by her last name, spoke about the abuse she suffered while attending Holy Cross Catholic School in Hutchinson. The Topeka Capital-Journal generally doesn’t identify victims of sex abuse at their request.
One day after mass in 1966 when Susan was in 4th grade, a boy came to her classroom and told the nun she needed to see the father. The boy sat in a church pew while the father raped her in the sacristy.
“After raping me, he held my hands and looked me in the face and told me that I was not going to talk about this,” Susan said. “He told me this was like confession: ‘We don’t talk about what happens in confession, so you are not going to talk about this. And if you do, you will go to hell.’ ”
She said she was confused, angry and unsure what happened.
“I walked back to my classroom, trying to straighten out my underpants,” she said.
He raped her two more times. After he left the church, the new priest, William Wheeler, raped her in a more violent attack immediately after they met. Wheeler is among priests whose abuse has been documented by the Catholic church.
Susan recalled being officially introduced to Wheeler a few days after the attack.
“He gave me a stone-cold look that went right through me, as if to say, ‘I will kill you if you say anything about meeting me before,’ ” Susan said. “I never said a word.”
Two years later, he raped her again. She didn’t speak about what happened for 50 years.
Chuck Weber, of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said “these despicable acts” are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic church.
“As a practicing Catholic, I hang my head in shame at the clergy abuse scandal, which some members of my own church have been complicit,” Weber said. “We cannot say ‘I am sorry’ enough.”
The American Tort Reform Association opposes the legislation because the bill would retroactively allow victims to sue their abusers, and memories fade over time.
“Statutes of limitations are a foundational element of a fair and well-ordered civil justice system,“said ATRA president Sherman Joyce. “They protect the integrity of the civil justice system by ensuring that judges and juries make decisions about liability based on the best evidence available.”