It takes great deal of courageous to talk about one’s experience of abuse in public. It takes much more to do it as an effort to get legislation passed to assist other victims of abuse. It takes something unheard of to do it two years in a row, only to see the bill ignored and tossed aside. This is what C.T. Wilson faced in Maryland:
For the second year in a row, he put it all out there: the shame, the fear, the self-loathing, the pain, the dark details of his horrific, repeated rape.
An Army veteran and attorney, Maryland Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) stood before his colleagues in Annapolis, confessed that he “really, really” didn’t want to be there and told them why he doesn’t sleep much at night. Why he hoped his children would never be boys. Why he knows he is “a monster on the inside.”
And for the second year in a row, lawmakers in the state legislature put all that in a drawer. And closed it.
“It’s usually the case when we tell our stories,” Wilson said. “Nobody wants to hear this. And we want to be heard.”
Wilson wants his fellow delegates to understand what the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse endure. And what recourse they have years and years later. And for two years, he has sponsored legislation aimed at helping them.
As it stands, a criminal case against an abuser can be pursued anytime, no matter how long ago the abuse happened.
But a civil case — the kind of action that can get a patient’s treatment paid for — has a statute of limitations. Victims have seven years once they reach adulthood to file a civil suit against a molester or a school, a team or a church that enabled that abuser.
And unless a victim comes to terms with the abuse, recognizes it, fights through it and files a civil suit before age 25, no dice. And that’s a big problem. Because many victims of childhood sexual abuse repress the memories in order to survive. Some even kill themselves.
Since Maryland removed the statute of limitations on the criminal cases, I see no reason why this should not apply to civil cases. As Wilson notes, many victims do not report their experiences until years after the abuse happened. In those instances, they will begin addressing whatever issues developed as a result of the abuse. It makes sense to allow them to file a suit for damages as this would be the point where the damages would be most apparent.
But Md. House Bill 1215 and its counterpart, Senate Bill 69, would give victims 20 years to file their suits once they reach adulthood. So, you’d have to decide to confront your abuser by the time you turn 38.
Like Wilson — 38.
A handful of other states, including Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, have extended or have no statutes of limitation.
What’s the holdup in Maryland?
Take a moment before reading to see if you can guess who has helped block the bill. I will give you a hint: it is a very old, very powerful organization with a history of repeatedly covering up sexual abuse against children:
Lobbyists representing the Catholic Church — which for years has been at the center of a global scandal over priests sexually abusing children — have helped block the bill.
Passing the legislation is “unwarranted and unjust,” the Maryland Catholic Conference wrote in testimony submitted last month against the bill.
Mostly, the church said, the bill unfairly targets it.
“Private, religious and non-profit organizations would face dramatically greater risks of potentially devastating civil claims,” according to the testimony. Quoting California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) when he vetoed a bill that would have suspended the statute of limitations for civil suits in child sexual assault cases, the testimony continued: “There comes a time when an individual or an organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits.”
The opposition matters. “Maryland is a Catholic state, you know,” said Del. Susan K. McComas (R-Harford).
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) has refused to put the bill up for a vote. He did not respond to my request for comment.
It is always nice to see that the Catholic Church has its concerns properly ordered. It is better to be concerned about “potentially devastating civil claims” than the fact that hundreds of thousands of children faced abuse at the hands of various Church officials, most of whom will go unpunished. Granted, the Church is in a unique position because they can be and have previously been held liable for the abuse committed by their officials. Given the scale of the abuse and the extent of the cover-up, it is very likely that they could face numerous lawsuits even if the alleged perpetrators are dead.
That does not explain all the refusal to support the bills. It also does not explain this kind of exchange:
But [Susuan] McComas, who said she “may” support the bill if it were to come up for a vote, is skeptical that it would do any good.
“Money isn’t going to cleanse any souls,” McComas said.
She said that was what she meant when she emailed John Plaschke, 50, a University of Maryland biotech researcher and a sexual assault survivor. He had written to McComas urging her to support the bill.
This is what she told him in the email:
I hope that you have sought treatment and have moved beyond the abuse. It is very much about your personal resilience to live and thrive. The best revenge is to be well and be happy.
I think that many of the Jews that survived the holocaust are wonderful role models of courage and survival.
That response made the rounds on social media. And McComas got slammed by survivors furious with her response.
“I meant it in a nice way,” McComas said.
I am sure she did. It does not, however, make her comment any less insensitive. The purpose of the money is not to “cleanse any souls”. Its purpose is to provide people with a means of affording professional support. Therapy is not cheap, and neither is the medication many people need in order to function. This is not to say that every single case needs to result in monetary compensation. Yet it also does not mean that we should ignore instances where a person has a legal basis to file a lawsuit. We also should not ignore why people would want professional help:
Wilson said he struggles every day to move forward.
“I slept about an hour and a half last night,” he said. “I know, if I go sleep, I’m not going to dream. I’m going to remember.”
That happens to many victims of abuse, regardless of their age. During the abuse, their dreams may have been a safe space. After the abuse, particularly if the person is dealing with the affects of the abuse on a frequent basis, their dreams become pseudo memories, forcing them to relive horrible situations every time they sleep. I agree that money will not make this magically go away, however, it could provide people with a way of getting help so that their subconscious does not run wild when they sleep.
It is impressive to see the reasons people concoct to refuse to the most basic suppport. If they had issues with the potential liability the bills could cause, the legislature could alter the language of the bills rather toss them out. They could add any number of stipulations, including a simple one like extending the statute of limitations only in cases that went through criminal proceedings. Instead, the lawmakers seem more concerned with protecting an institution with history of ignoring child rape rather than helping child rape victims.