Child Sex Abuse - and Reforms to Law - Are Not Catholic Issues, Victim Says
By Ivey DeJesus
October 3, 2018
|Kristen Pfautz Woolley was sexually abused as a child. Now a therapist, she is fighting to reform state child sex crime laws. She says child sex abuse has nothing to do with the Catholic Church. (Ivey DeJesus)|
Kristen Pfautz Woolley was 10 years old when a friend of the family began to sexually molest her.
Afraid and confused, Woolley told no one. Her predator continued to molest her for two years.
By the time Woolley entered young adulthood and realized what had happened to her, the statute of limitations had expired for her. Woolley's life was ravaged by anxiety, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Years of therapy have allowed Woolley to heal and move on.
Now 48, she devotes herself to helping victims of child sexual abuse heal and regain control of their lives. Woolley is founder and clinical director of Turning Point Women's Counseling and Advocacy Center in York.
She is fighting to ensure the Legislature enacts a bill that would reform the statute of limitations and open an opportunity for her to file a lawsuit against her predator.
"Most people carry this to their grave," Woolley said this week. "When you finally get a chance to speak, you find you can't speak because of the laws."
Amid the outrage surrounding the grand jury report into clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania, Woolley stands among victims of child sex abuse who have nothing to do with the Catholic Church, but have as much to lose, they say, if lawmakers fail to reform laws.
"I'm not Catholic," she said. "My abuse has zero to do with clergy and I'm being blocked. It's all about money. They have all to lose."
The state House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to expand the pathways to justice for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Senate Bill 261 eliminates all criminal statutes of limitations on future child sexual abuse cases, extends the deadline for civil cases against perpetrators and those who supervise them to age 50, and creates a new, retroactive component permitting past victims who are timed-out of the legal system at present a temporary, two-year window to file civil suits.
Woolley notes that while the Catholic Church is fighting to block the reform legislation in the General Assembly, the majority of adults abused as children have no connection to the church.
"Every single effort to block this and every single lawmaker who blocks this is, in my opinion, siding with pedophiles, protecting them and every single child that is victimized because of their lack of doing the right, moral and ethical thing, God help their souls. That's on them," she said. "To me they handed their perpetrators the door. It's open. It's open now, go for it. Money is more important. I don't know how you rationalize that."
This past weekend, for example, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput urged the faithful to oppose Senate Bill 261, citing concerns that the bill would bankrupt dioceses and put parishes and ministries at risk.
In a letter to parishioners, Chaput, the former head of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, endorsed a plan crafted by bishops to set up a compensation fund for abuse victims. Under the plan, victims would be precluded from pursuing court action to claim compensation.
Both Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office led the grand jury investigation into clergy sex abuse, and Gov. Tom Wolf are urging lawmakers to reform statute of limitations, including enacting the retroactive window recommended by the grand jury.
Senate Republican leadership generally find fault in the retroactive window, specifically due to, they say, issues of constitutionality.
Woolley has in recent months attended the rallies and the lobbying efforts on the part of victims to encourage lawmakers to reform the state's child sex crime laws.
The bill is currently in the Senate, which has it under final consideration even as the clock ticks away on the abbreviated current legislative session. Indeed, the session days are running out: As of today, the Senate is scheduled to meet - and vote - on Oct. 15, 16, 17, and November 14.
Most victims advocates fear yet another defeat for the reform effort.
"There is reason to fear that the furious forward momentum for statute of limitations reform for child sex abuse victims (and in particular a 2-year window) could be derailed," writes Marci Hamilton, a prominent victims advocate and statute of limitations reform activist. "The ball is now in the senate's court and it has only seven days left."
Woolley says that if the retroactive window is enacted, she will file a lawsuit against her predator - who is now about 60, and still lives in central Pennsylvania.
As a therapist, she is convinced he not only sexually molested other children while he was molesting her, but that he continues to do so today.
"There's no doubt in my mind," she said. "None. That's why this window is so frustrating. I have nothing to do with Catholicism...I just want to protect children."
Woolley didn't tell her mother about the abuse at the hands of the family friend until she was 23.
"I was afraid of what it would do to her," she said.
Three weeks after telling her mother her secret, her mother died unexpectedly.
On top of the trauma from abuse, Woolley suddenly had to deal with crushing guilt that she had killed her mother.
"When you are violated you feel you don't matter...it takes a long time to work through that you have value," she says.
After years of therapy, Woolley has put her life in order. She is married, a mom, and a therapist.
She notes that only 4 percent of victims of child sex abuse have connections to the Catholic Church.
Woolley reported her abuse to law enforcement when she was 25 and again at the age of 40. Her statute of limitations had expired at 14 and 18, criminally and civilly respectively.
Woolley, who documented admission from her predator that he abused her, says she is certain that he - as is usually the pattern - has molested other children. Woolley wants to put a stop to it and bring him to justice.
"Perpetrators dont stop. They do not stop," she said. "How many more children have to take it. How many have to be thrown at him?"
This report has been updated.