I had a dream. If you know me, this won't shock you at all. I'm one of those people who dreams the minute their eyes are closed and remembers them pretty much daily. But this dream was different. This dream was one of those that actually grabs your heart, and you know it means something. You know why you had it. And you wish that others could have been there.
In this dream, I was in a large courtroom and my abuser from my youth was on trial. I sat waiting to be called to the stand to testify against her...my hands holding all the evidence that the court would ever need to see, to know that I truly was telling the truth. There would be no doubt. And maybe I could keep her from harming others.
But as I sat there, the judge kept calling person after person to come up and testify, and the information they were able to give was partial at best, and not very helpful. I anxiously awaited the moment I could finally give clarity to this case. But the longer I waited, the more it became clear that my day may never come. I walked up to the judge to ask when they were going to call me up to testify. He brushed me aside and said he'd get to me. But before I knew it, they were calling people up out of the audience who had nothing to contribute, as if they had run out of good witnesses and there was nothing left for them to do.
Then, suddenly, it was clear they were done calling witnesses for the prosecution and it was now time to defend my abuser. I quickly ran up to the judge explaining that I was the ONLY witness that had real, actual proof of what had happened. I was the ONLY one who could come forward and let the world know who this woman really was. But the judge told me it was too late. The time for witnesses for the prosecution was over and he had made a mistake. But he could not call me up at that time and would have to declare a mistrial and the whole thing would have to start over some time in the future.
The only problem is, I had no future. In my dream I was dying and I knew that the truth would never come out. That there would be no official record of what happened. And no matter how many people I told in my own circles, I would not be able to protect the the children still out there that this woman would molest. I would die before my voice ever made it to trial.
When I awoke, my heart was racing and was heavy. I stayed in my bed for a few moments realizing that this dream speaks to the intense frustration survivors like me all over the world feel as we are finally ready to be able to speak out against our abusers...to warn the world that they are there...to keep other victims safe...and it is too late. No one will let us speak. No one will listen.
When I was abused by my teacher, the law said it was not even illegal for a woman to sexually molest a child. And if my molester had been male, I would have had until I was 19 to come forward and report her to the police. And no matter how well-intentioned that law may have been, it might as well have said, "any adult can sexually abuse a minor as long as they never get caught by another adult." Why? Because children are in no position to be able to come forward and report their abuse to police...or to anyone else for that matter. And it takes a whole lot longer than one year of "adulthood" to actually see your youth clearly for what it was.
The good news is, society has learned that the one year Statute of Limitations (SOL) for victims was not sufficient and they eventually changed it to four years. Then realizing that it takes the average victim to the age of 42 to ever report (though most never will), the Utah Legislature change the Criminal SOL to be never-ending and the Civil SOL to ongoing in 2015.
A group of us "older survivors" were so happy to be able to testify and teach for our younger counterparts whose SOLs have not run out yet and help them have the time they need to heal. And now, anyone who was age 22 by the date of that bill signing in March, 2015, has whatever time they need to come forward.
HERE IS THE PROBLEM: These still-young victims know who the abusers in our midst are, but they will take, on average, the next TWENTY YEARS to be able to report them and let society know who they are. In the meantime, these abusers will continue to be hired as teachers and bus drivers, babysitters and religious leaders BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE KNOWS WHAT THEY REALLY ARE. And by the time they do...it will be too late for approximately 70-100 victims per perpetrator.
However, if past victims...those of us already old enough, brave enough to tell...are given an opportunity to go to court and name our abusers...we can help protect our children over the next 20 years and fill that gap. THAT is the gap that Utah's HB279 is working to fill.
I have heard those who oppose HB279 say that "it really won't help that many people because so many of the survivors won't really go after their abuser's finances in court, and if we do, we probably won't win much." I respectfully say, you are missing the point. To get financial help for the immense financial burdens that sexual abuse of children places on those victims and society would be helpful, to say the least. But most of us don't ever plan to seek out a dime. For example, my abuser has passed away. What we want is to be able to be heard, and to put the legal spotlight squarely on our perpetrators and say to the world, "This person is not safe to leave your children with. Stop them. Please...stop them before someone else gets hurt."
Society is too often content to say, "We already do background checks" and "reference checks", as if to say that is enough, or is the best we can do to safeguard our children. And though those are crucial safety measures, they will only catch a very small percentage of perpetrators, as most have never been caught by adults yet. And the average pedophile abuses 70-100 victims before they ever get caught. As in my dream, why are we content to get evidence from only the secondary sources, rather than allowing those who have first hand knowledge speak?
To take them to court, even in a civil court, will leave a traceable record. In court, we can give the evidence we have and have a judge or jury see that often times, we have undeniable proof of our abuse. In any courtroom, we can force our abusers into the light and stop allowing them to hide in the shadows of former inadequate Statutes of Limitations and choose a standard for our society of ZERO tolerance.
HB279 is going before the UT House of Representatives this morning. If it passes, it will continue to move through the Senate body and then on to the governor. I urge you to contact your UT representatives and ask them to support HB279, which will give all past victims of childhood sexual abuse the window of opportunity to take their abuser to a court of law and hold them accountable for their actions.
On behalf of many other adult victims I say, CALL ME TO THE BENCH AND LET ME SPEAK. I want to protect your children and your grandchildren from the lifetime of nightmares that many of us have had to live, and free them to dream.