Protesters Decry Sex Abuse Law

By Beth Wischmeyer
Argus Leader
September 30, 2010

A group of Native Americans who say they were physically and sexually abused when they were children at a Catholic-run orphanage in South Dakota voiced their frustration Wednesday in Sioux Falls about a new state law that puts limitations on lawsuits from abuse victims..

Former residents of the now closed Tekakwitha Orphanage in Sisseton gathered during a news conference in front of St. Joseph Cathedral, some sharing their accounts of abuse.

Many said they want to see a repeal of a law that says any abuse victims older than age 40 can sue only the individuals who abused them and not churches, schools or other institutions with which an abuser was associated. The law went into effect July 1.

"There is a long, long history of rampant sexual, physical and emotional abuse of Native American children at boarding schools run by the Catholic Church," said Joelle Casteix, western regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "We're here today to urge the public to do everything they can to make sure this law is repealed."

Casteix called enactment of the law a "deliberate racist and reckless attempt" to ensure that those victimized are "never able to expose the men and women that hurt them, the groups that facilitated the abuse and the long line of history of abuse at orphanages."

Proponents of the legislation say the law prevents those alleging the abuse from going after organizations instead of those who perpetrated the abuse, who probably have died.

"After that period of time, you can come forward and make any claim you want. Who is going to defend it?" said state Sen. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, who voted for the bill to become law. "I don't have any regrets voting the way I did."

Some who voted against the bill said they think victims should have the right to seek restitution from organizations.

"Later, as people find out and they receive counseling and come to terms with abuse, I think they need to have an opportunity to go back to where the abuse occurred and possibly bring charges against them. I think they have the right to do that, even if it's a significant time frame," said state Sen. Pam Merchant, D-Brookings.

Bill LaCroix, 75 said Wednesday that he was physically and sexually abused many times at the Sisseton orphanage as a child but blocked out much of the abuse during his life. He said he never has told his children what happened to him.

"I used to run away from there, just to get away from the abuse," LaCroix said. "I ran away many, many times, but I was always taken back, and I was always punished for doing that. I lay awake sometimes at night trying to remember some detail as to what happened and why it happened. I could never come up with a logical explanation."

Two dozen former Tekakwitha residents sued the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls and several other parties in late July, alleging sexual and physical abuse by priests and nuns in the 1940s through the 1970s.

A message left for Jerry Klein, spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, was not returned Wednesday, but he has said previously that the diocese has been reaching out publicly to anyone harmed by abuse and wants to help where it can.

Reach reporter Beth Wischmeyer at 977-3936.


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