Keep the Faith, Change the Church.

Statement to the Virginia Senate Regarding SB1145

January 23, 2011

I present this statement not as a victim/survivor of child sexual abuse myself, but as a supporter of and advocate for survivors. For the last 8 years, I have reached out to survivors as a member of a Catholic lay organization known as Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). It was formed in Boston in 2002 out of the horror and outrage of lay Catholic men and women as revelations of rampant sexual abuse of children and institutional cover-up of the abuses overwhelmed the Catholic consciousness. One of the principal goals of VOTF is outreach to survivors and protection of children. I have served on the national Board of Trustees of VOTF for the past five years.
I have listened to countless stories of child sexual abuse, most of them committed by members of the Catholic clergy. The stories vary in the details, but they all share two common longings of the survivors. The first is their urgent need to protect other children from similar sexual abuse. The second is their own need to obtain a direct acknowledgement of the abuse they suffered (both at the time of the abuse and for decades, if not a lifetime, thereafter) by their abusers or by those responsible for the actions of the abusers.
The single biggest impediment to the satisfaction of both needs is the statute of limitation (SOL) restrictions in each state. Although Virginia imposes no criminal SOL on child sexual abuse, it does require survivors to bring a civil action for such abuse within 2 years after survivors turn 18 years of age. I have yet to meet a survivor who had the capacity until well into adulthood to take what might seem like a reasonable and logical step for many harms by the time they turn 20. Most survivors require years of life experience before they begin to connect the source of their suffering to the recollection of child abuse that they suppressed in order to deal with the trauma. The more fortunate ones are those that draw upon internal and external resources to confront their trauma after decades of life experience. The less fortunate ones remain trapped in silence and shame for a lifetime, or in too many cases, take their own lives after unbearable suffering that they cannot overcome.
With no recourse to civil actions, survivors languish in a continuing injustice and violations of their deepest selves. When asked what would most help their own recovery, they consistently express the need for an opportunity to prove their abuse when, as so often is the case, no one believes, or wants to believe, their story. They deeply crave a public acknowledgement that they are the victims, not someone responsible for or complicit in their horrific experiences. They also want a public acknowledgement so that parents and other adults can protect children from the grasp of those who abused them, most of whom are loose in society with no record of their abusive actions because they escaped any accountability due to long-since expirations of SOL periods. Pedophiles left to themselves cannot alter their predatory behavior and they do not grow out of it as they age.
Eliminating SOL periods is the fairest way for Virginia to enable justice to occur for survivors of child sexual abuse. Certainly due process needs to be extended to those accused of such horrific actions, but the judicial system is able to mete out justice in other situations where time has passed, memories are faded, records are incomplete and principals are no longer available. The sexual abuse of children is a murder of the child’s soul, and each such child should have the opportunity to persuade a judge or jury of their abuse.
Complete elimination of civil SOL periods for instances of child sexual abuse would be the fairest change in Virginia’s civil SOLs; a 25-year SOL after the age of 18 would help some of those abused; an 8-year SOL will not help most survivors; and the current 2-year SOL is cruel. I urge the Virginia legislators and Governor to bring justice for survivors of child sexual abuse.
William R. Casey
5529 Gary Ave.
Alexandria, VA 22311

Links to news coverage of the debate on revision to Virginia's child sex abuse statute of limitations law:

Virginia Senate OKs extending time for sex-abuse lawsuits
Virginia advocates for victims of childhood sexual assault blast Catholic Church for opposing bills
Virginia man's abuse story moves legislators to act
Bills give more time to sue over sex abuse