Yesterday, I attended the Senate Committee hearing for Utah's HB279 Statute of Limitations Reform Amendments, where Rep. Ken Ivory and survivors sought to educate the committee on the importance of creating an opportunity for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to take their abusers to civil court. It was an overall very positive experience, but I could not leave without a deep desire to educate some in the room who do not yet fully understand the ramifications of continuing in the Status Quo.
One well-meaning senator spoke of his deep concerns with the bill, which seemed to center around the old arguments concerning "false allegations" and "foggy memories". This man obviously has not read the studies which show that the rate of false allegations for cases involving childhood sexual abuse are actually less than other crimes. This is due to the incredible shame involved with sexual abuse, as well as the excruciating process of having to point fingers at someone you love, which is generally the case in these court cases. He has not lived the nightmare of remembering every detail of the abuse you suffered, and hiding so many facts that can be corroborated that you know that if you open your mouth, the world will never be able to deny its reality.
So today I share with you my letter to this good senator, in hopes that it will help shed some light on the dark mists of misperception that still exist in our society concerning childhood sexual abuse.
It is with the utmost respect that I write to you this morning. Please know that I believe you are a genuinely good man and strive to do what is right and vote accordingly. And it is with that belief that I share with you my feelings today about yesterday's committee hearing on HB279.
I thank you for voicing your genuine concerns during the meeting. That can be hard to do when you disagree with a topic that can be politically damaging. No one wants to look like they are defending child abusers. And indeed, I don't think there is anyone up on the hill who would defend an abuser. And it can be hard to speak up when you fear that some newspaper will make you out to be such a person.
For those of us who have fought to overcome child sex abuse, it is incredibly painful to sit through those meetings. Each time, someone voices things they have been taught or may have even observed and sends the message "I think this is being exaggerated", or "you could never prove it". I struggle to keep myself in my chair, as I want to run to the microphone and share with them the things I know...the things I have witnessed, because I know that if they knew what I knew, they would see the issue in a completely different light.
However, having those thoughts shared publicly gives us an opportunity to educate once again and help people understand that the culture of silence that we have placed upon victims is the very thing that allows the abuse to continue. We can educate on the importance of changing our culture into one that does not hide perpetrators and gives every opportunity possible to find them out and heal our children.
We get it. No one wants to believe that not only would a father and brother sexually abuse their daughter..their sister. But they especially don't want to believe that a mother...a family...would prostitute out that daughter to strangers. It's easier and less painful to believe that "it must be made up or exaggerated". It makes us feel safer to believe that when we take our kids and grandkids to Jr. High, that no "religious, female, teacher of the year" would begin a sexual relationship with our daughter or granddaughter. It's terrifying to realize that a father, who appears to be loving and God-fearing, would actually have a sexual relationship with his own children. It makes us afraid to leave our children in their Sunday School class, or sleepover at a friend's house.
But those of us who know the truth know that not only do those things happen, but they happen all too often. But the studies show that the more we speak out and look at the truth, the safer our children are becoming. We want to tell the world, "There are ways to keep your children safe at school, at church, and even in their own homes!!!" But it cannot happen in the culture of silence we have created. It cannot happen if we continue to close our eyes and choose to believe that victims are "exaggerating" or "making up" these claims.
It will only happen when we teach children that they are allowed to have boundaries and how they can honor those boundaries when anyone...even a trusted adult...is trying to cross those boundaries. It will happen only when we teach them that we will believe them if they need to talk to us about uncomfortable subjects and incidents. It will only happen when we create a culture that does not allow predators to hide behind locked doors, charming smiles, and impossible Statutes of Limitation.
If survivors want to take their chances in a civil court against their abuser, they will have to risk the tremendous pain of going public with such a humiliating story. They will have to find a lawyer who believes their case is strong and that they can recuperate the costs of lengthy and pricey litigation. They will have to risk their own finances, personal relationships, and the very real possibility that they may lose in court, or even win a judgement that will never be paid.
If you think that a survivor cannot handle such potential loss and disappointment...you may be right. Most survivors will never come forward, but continue to live in suicidal silence. But for the few that heal to the point where they are able and willing to face their abuser in court, who are we to deny them that right? And why would we ever protect an abuser over a child? Trust me...survivors are the strongest people I have ever met. They have dealt with far greater disappointments than losing in court. If that were to happen, they could handle it.
It is not hard for a judge or jury to see a frivolous claim when they see one. And "he said, she said" cases never make it to court. But there are plenty of us who can show you a list of evidence that would make your stomach turn. We can corroborate places, times and people. In my case, in a one hour interview with a school district there was no doubt that I was telling the truth and could prove it, regardless of the fact that the abuse had occurred 20 years earlier. It was so compelling that the abuser didn't even try to deny it and was fired within two days. The police wanted to prosecute my abuser. But the statute of limitations had run out decades ago. So instead, she was free to go get another job, teaching young children in the private sector. When my abuser passed away last year, other survivors of her sexual abuse quietly came forward to tell me of their experiences. But that could only happen because I came forward publicly and took action.
In your statement, you expressed the thought that I would be just as effective holding a sign in front of my abuser's home as I would be in court. With all due respect, I ask you, will the neighbors require a line of questioning that allows the details to come forward? Will the neighbors question my abuser to discover the level of truthfulness in my claim? Will they convince my abuser to help pay for my mental health counseling as it goes on for years? Or help pay my medical bills that mount up? Will they pass a judgement that remains on the records for others to research and discover? Will they make my claims public so that others outside of the neighborhood might hear my story and know that if my abuser abused them...they are not alone? Or will they just dismiss "the crazy lady with the sign" because they will have no way of knowing if my accusations are true, and "so-and-so would never do such a thing"?
I sincerely ask you to reconsider your position on HB279. Not so that it will pass, My job is not to make sure it passes, but to educate. And I pray it will pass with or without your vote. But I ask you to reconsider your position so that there will be one more person in the world who will work to protect our children...one more person in a position to do something to protect our children who will help educate others. Please be that "one more person" today.
With all sincerity,
President of A Most Sacred Trust