Child sexual assault victim to state senators: ‘There remains no justice in my case’

KETV - ABC 7 [Omaha NE]

January 22, 2022

By Andrew Ozaki

Victims of child sexual assault make an emotional plea to state senators on Friday.

They want a longer window to seek justice.

Stacey Naiman appeared before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in support of LB 833.

The measure would eliminate the statute of limitations for victims to go after the private institutions that allowed the abuse to happen.

She said she was sexually assaulted by a priest she trusted when she was 15.

“I told him to stop several times. But he never listened and the abuse continued,” Naiman said.

She said she became withdrawn and emotionally devastated.

“I attempted suicide and carved ‘Go to hell’ into my leg,” Naiman said.

She finally told her family and reported the abuse to law enforcement in 1999.

“He admitted to everything in my report. However, the investigators told us that we had no grounds to press charges,” Naiman said.

It wasn’t until last November that Father Mark Merkel was listed among 58 church officials in Attorney General Doug Peterson’s report on clergy abuse.

The report said: “Given the facts regarding Merkel’s abuse of Victim #1, it is somewhat baffling why criminal charges were not brought by the county attorney. Merkel’s actions appear to fall within the definition of second or third-degree sexual assault.”

Merkel was removed from his duties in 2006. And the statute of limitations had expired.

“After nearly 20 years, I finally felt heard and the crimes against me validated. However, my family and I are no longer able to pursue charges and there remains no justice in my case,” Naiman said.

Under current Nebraska law, a victim has until age 33 to sue a business or organization they believe helped perpetuate the abuse.

State Sen. Rich Pahls said LB 833 is needed because the average age a child sex assault survivor comes forward is 52.

He wants the limitation removed for future cases

And pointed to the injustice in Naiman’s case along with hundreds of other victims in Peterson’s report.

“If this book could cry, there would be a river of tears,” Pahls said.

Nebraska Catholic Conference Executive Director Tom Venzor said the church has implemented a number of changes and safeguards over the past 20 years.

“We are sorry for the pain and suffering you experience in the church. You deserve better, and we ask for your forgiveness,” Venzor said.

But Venzor pointed out more sexual abuse occurs outside the church.

He said the bill should also remove the statute of limitations for government and public entities as well.

“If the goal of this legislation is fairness, justice inequity for victims, as should be applied across the board,” Venzor said.

Coleen Nielsen representing Nebraska Insurance Information Services and the Nebraska Insurance Federation said defending abuse cases years later would be difficult.

“Records can be destroyed. Witnesses can be difficult to find others may have become incapacitated or pass away. In essence, the limits are designed to protect us against unfair litigation,” Nielsen said.

Kathryn Robb of Child US Advocacy and child abuse survivor herself disagreed.

“We’re talking about the rape, sodomy in sexual assault of children,” Robb said. “Why should sexual predators be protected by the passage of time while victims suffer?”

She said 17 other states have already passed similar laws.

Pahls said he will make LB 833 his priority bill of the session.

He said he will work to remove the statute of limitations for child sexual assault for government agencies after this bill is passed.