Opinion: Still no progress on statute of limitations reform for sex abuse victims

Cincinnati Enquirer / cincinnati.com

August 7, 2022

By Theresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann

Three years ago, the Rev. Geoffrey Drew was arrested on nine counts of child rape, and local parents still see no efforts to protect their children. 

At the time, Drew was the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Green Township, which gave him superintendent-like authority over the largest parochial elementary school in Ohio.

After his arrest, we learned that Archdiocese of Cincinnati employees were aware of Drew’s three decades-long and three Ohio countywide pattern of red flag behavior with children.

According to the evidence list, this included a 1983 letter from a Catholic school principal, vacations with boys, a formal complaint in seminary for having a child in his bedroom, a written plea for help by Dayton-area school boys at St. Rita in 2006, Drew’s use of parish funds for a male nude massage service in 2012, and three Butler County investigations in 2013 and 2015.

Despite this and other concerning reports, Drew was placed in charge of St. Ignatius school (with over 1,000 students) and parish.

Alarmed, a group of parents and grandparents began Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati and sent 1,300 signatures in a petition requesting the Vatican investigate the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have never formally responded to the plea for safety and transparency.

After speaking to survivors, prosecutors, lawmakers and other local, state and national experts, our group realized that it wasn’t just Catholic policies that have failed, but it was a statewide failure to have updated and effective child sex abuse laws.https://dfd91ef58b51db324522e2540faabc82.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

We joined with other concerned Ohioans to form Ohioans for Child Protection to urge lawmakers to address the child sexual abuse crisis in Ohio. Child USA, a national expert on child sexual violence, estimates that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18, and predators can average 150 victims in their lifetime.

Ohio has been graded with an “F” by Child USA for child sexual abuse laws. Ohioans For Child Protection has been calling, emailing and meeting with Ohio lawmakers to create better grooming laws, stronger mandated reporting, require age-appropriate education of children, and reform the criminal and civil statue of limitations for child sexual abuse.

Despite nearly three years of Ohioans for Child Protection advocacy and 20 years of survivor group advocacy, the majority party has stonewalled the most effective efforts to protect Ohio children from rape.

“Ohio’s weak laws and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati allowed Father Drew, that taught me in elementary school and raped my classmate, to move throughout Ohio, baptize my baby and then run my kids Ohio elementary school,” said Rebecca Surendorff, a former St. Ignatius parent, former St. Jude student and member of Ohioans for Child Protection.

“The Archdiocese has not faced civil or criminal consequences for those actions. The Republican leadership in Columbus has not passed laws that could save thousands of children from rape. States from Louisiana to New York have stronger laws to identify hidden predators.”

According to a national expert on these issues, Marci Hamilton of Child USA: “Ohio is one of the worst states in the country for justice and healing for child sex abuse victims. I quit waiting for the Vatican years ago. What’s needed is statue of limitations reform and prosecutors with the mettle to go after the criminals against children in their own state.”

Says Kathryn Robb, executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy and a survivor of child sexual abuse:

“The criminal system can only go so far, as evidenced by the father Drew case. As an attorney, reasonable woman and American citizen, I believe in the rule of law and in due process. However, all laws have exceptions that are based on reasonableness, fairness  and sound public policy. After all, we are not talking about ‘slip and fall’ cases or fender bender cases, we are talking about the sexual assault, rape and sodomy of our children.

“It’s simple: Restrictive statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse protect the sexual predator and those that harbor them, not children. Many states across the country are taking a zero-tolerance position on sexual abuse to children. Ohio, on the other hand, remains fully tolerant and accommodating of sexual predators, offering them and the institutions that conceal them, the highest levels of protection. Shame on them.”

Ohio HB266 is a current bill that would reform statute of limitations laws and allow a window for Ohio victims to come forward to report. 

State Rep. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Township in suburban Columbus, chairman the House Criminal Justice committee, has failed to schedule committee hearings for this pivotal legislation.

Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann is a Catholic mom who spends her time running children to activities, working as an event planner, and advocating for child protection and justice for victims of child sexual abuse with the Concerned Catholics of Cincinnati. For more information about Ohioans for Child Protection, contact Dinwiddie-Herrmann at 513-505-0512 or email ohioansforchildprotection@gmail.com.