Bill sought by child sex abuse survivors rerouted for study

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Individuals who were sexually abused as children will have to keep waiting for justice, now that a bill that could potentially give them more time to sue their abusers has been routed for further study.

Senate Bill 219 would to protect survivors of sexual abuse by giving them more time to sue, Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The problem, he said, is that often by the time a victim can process what has been done to them, it’s too late to fight back.

“These survivors, because of the statute of limitations, are left with no recourse,” Merritt said. “And because those limitations of time have run out, the bill provides adult survivors who have since been barred from that civil recourse with a three-year window to pursue civil action against their abuser.”

Under current Indiana law, a child who was sexually abused must file an action within seven years of the cause of action, or four years after the child is no longer a dependent of the abuser. Merritt’s bill would add an additional three years to each, but he said that specific number was arbitrary and up for discussion.

The ultimate goal, Merritt said, was to give survivors a chance to shed light on the darkness of their past.

Forty-two year-old Chris Compton didn’t bring his story out of the shadows until last August, after flipping through old family photos triggered suppressed memories. He said he was sexually abused at age 9 by an Evansville Catholic priest. It wasn’t until decades later, when Compton had a son of his own, now 9, that he found the courage to tell his family the truth.

“People may ask a victim, ‘Why would you not say something sooner?’” Compton said. “The borderline brainwashing instilled fear in me as a child that no child should ever feel.”

Upon first learning of her son’s torment, Kim Compton was shocked and devastated.

“I was the first person he had ever told about the abuse,” she said. “It took him decades to tell me. That’s why SB 219 is so important. Sexual assault victims like Chris are often ashamed and afraid when they’re young to talk about the issue.”

She testified that many survivors of childhood abuse think that if too much time has passed, they don’t have a voice. But she said the measure would prove that Hoosiers are ready to listen.

“It’s a chance for them to speak up loud and clear,” she said. “Survivors cannot wait any longer for justice.”

Jennifer Woodward of Westfield agreed, speaking out about the years of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her gymnastics coach when she was 15. Although she reported her abuse to local authorities and USA Gymnastics, nothing was done.

Twenty years later, the national organization’s attorney contacted Woodward, saying her abuse report was found among 17 other uninvestigated cases in a file cabinet. There were two other claims made against her coach, but for Woodward, the statute of limitations had long expired.

“I had done everything right,” she said. “And now I know that there are others that unfortunately followed in my footsteps of sexual abuse. Those are footsteps that could have been prevented if someone had taken me seriously.”

However, Committee Chairman Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, proposed an amendment that the issue be discussed at a summer study committee, raising concerns across the committee’s party lines.

“The topic of statutes of limitations has some implications that have not been testified about this morning,” Head said. “If we open up the statute of limitations for everyone, it’s possible that victims could get justice … but if we open it up and say there’s no statute of limitations ever, there’s another set of issues there.”

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, questioned Head’s rationale for the amendment, wondering who would be opposed to the idea of giving survivors extended time.

“I just don’t know what’s going to be different,” Freeman said of sending SB 219 to study committee. 

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, had his own contentions, saying he was hurt by the amendment. “There’s nothing to study,” Taylor said. “It’s sick, it’s demeaning, and we should open up the floodgates for these people to be prosecuted.”

The amendment passed by a 6-3 vote, and the bill passed 9-1. The measure will now be recommended to the legislative council for a summer study committee.

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