Public Outrage at Child Sexual Abuse Problem Continues, But New Legislation Seeking Justice for Georgia Victims Poses Viable Solution

 

A recent Pennsylvania grand jury report described internal documents from six Catholic dioceses revealing that more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children over the course of several decades.  Since its publication, the contents of this report have stirred widespread public outrage and reignited demands seeking justice for victims. While the report has brought these issues to the forefront yet again, it is unlikely to lead to any new criminal or civil consequences for the accused priests under current law.

 

Our firm represents clients on similar cases, including filings against the Darlington School in Rome, Ga, the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council, and several North Georgia churches.

Further, statistics indicate that incidents of child sexual abuse are more prevalent than ever:

 

  • The U.S. Department of Justice reports only 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities.
  • 69,939 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012. 34% were younger than 9 years old.
  • 28% of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.

 

Why is The Statute of Limitations Important in These Cases?

 

Most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not disclose the abuse until they reach adulthood. While the average time it takes a victim of abuse to disclose such abuse is nearly 20 years, others never disclose the abuse at all. There are many reasons why children delay or refrain from disclosing abuse: failing to realize the magnitude of the offense, feeling embarrassed, feeling that they will not be believed or taken seriously, and fearing that nothing will change if they do tell someone.

 

Many states have passed laws extending the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers and the entities that harbor them.

 

Under current Georgia law, legal actions against entities who knowingly harbored sexual predators must be filed before the plaintiff reaches the age of 31 years old.  However, a victim must also file suit before 12 years from the date of when the entity’s illegal actions occurred. Given that a large portion of victims of childhood sexual abuse wait decades to disclose, the current law is clearly insufficient for many seeking justice.

 

Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act

 

In early 2018, revisions to the Hidden Predator Act (HPA, HB605) were introduced in the Georgia Legislature to allow more victims to seek justice. Proposed amendments to the law included:

  • Extending the age limit for filing lawsuits to 38 years;
  • Extending the discovery period to 8 years; and
  • Creating a one-year open window for victims to sue entities that
  • knowingly harbored their sexual abuser(s).

The Georgia Senate failed to reach a consensus regarding amendments to the Hidden Predator Act, and the additional protections were ultimately excluded.

  • The bill unanimously passed in the House, but the legislation died in the Senate after extensive lobbying and opposition.
  • The majority of this opposition was spearheaded by the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church.
  • When the Legislative Session ended, the bill had been amended to include an extension of the statute of limitations allowing victims to file suit before reaching 31 years of age.

 

A similar bill is expected to be introduced again during Georgia’s 2019 Legislative Session. By this point, many hope the bill will gain the Catholic Church’s support. In a recent letter sent to area Catholics in response to the Pennsylvania scandal, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stated, “All Catholics, including so many good and generous priests, are rightly angered, confused, and embarrassed by this testimony that the leadership of the church failed to care for our people with compassion and honesty.”

 

We will hold Archbishop Gregory to his pledge to take whatever next steps “are necessary to ensure vigilance and accountability and to foster healing.”

 

We call upon the community to help us to ensure the Hidden Predator Act is successful in 2019 and that protections seeking to foster the healing of sexual abuse victims in Georgia will finally be implemented.

 

 

https://www.nsopw.gov/en/education/factsstatistics/?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/14/us/catholic-church-sex-abuse-pennsylvania.html?emc=edit_nn_20180815&nl=morning-briefing&nlid=7194092620180815&te=1

 

http://www.childmatters.org.nz/file/Diploma-Readings/Block-2/Sexual-Abuse/3.4-children-and-young-people-disclosing-sexual-abuse-updated.pdf

 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/why-abuse-victims-wait-until-their-twilight-years-to-come-forwar/

 

http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20172018/HB/605

 

https://www.ajc.com/lifestyles/religion/atlanta-catholics-want-the-church-step-sexual-abuse-cases/hFTQHt498DuwM6ACn1GJEP/

 

Pennsylvania Boy Scout Leader Admits to Sexually Abusing Scouts for Nearly a Decade – State Revelations Highlight National Problem

Former Pennsylvania Boy Scout Leader, Stephen Piller, admitted Wednesday to sexually assaulting three minor Boy Scouts over the course of several years.

In an article published by The Associated Press, authorities reveal the 51-year-old man abused the scouts, both “at Piller’s home and at Camp Trexler, a Boy Scout facility in Monroe County [Pennsylvania].”  Piller, who served as the Order of the Arrow chapter adviser for the Minsi Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America, continued his chain of abuse for nearly a decade.

Penn Law works with clients seeking justice against institutions and organizations that choose to harbor those accused of sexual misconduct, rather than protecting the children entrusted to their care. For example, we have represented clients on similar cases, including filings against the Darlington School in Rome, Ga, the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council, and two Athens, Georgia churches.

In Pennsylvania, Georgia, and nationally, child sex abuse scandals continue to dominate the headlines. This particular case comes on the heels of a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report which uncovered internal documents from six dioceses in Pennsylvania revealing more than 300 “predator priests” accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.

Pennsylvania law, like the law in many other states, including Georgia, continues to hinder victims from seeking justice. These states often require victims to file suit at a very young age, allow little time for discovery, and prohibit criminal charges from being filed past a certain point. However, since the conviction of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, many have pushed for new legislation aimed at protecting victims from abusers and the organizations that harbor them.

During Georgia’s 2018 Legislative Session, The Hidden Predator Act sought to answer the public outcry by increasing protections for these victims.  However, in addition to openly opposing the proposed legislation, the Boy Scouts lobbied heavily to gut the bill’s protections. An effort upon which they were ultimately successful.  Instead of spending money to prevent known abusers from harming our children, the Boy Scouts organization continues to avoid responsibility for their decades of systematic cover-up.

http://www.mcall.com/news/police/mc-nws-catasauqua-minsi-trial-boy-scout-leader-sex-abuse-hearing-20180724-story.html

http://www.mcall.com/news/breaking/mc-pol-boy-scout-stephen-piller-sexual-assault-hearing-20171213-story.html

https://www.pennlive.com/news/2018/08/former_boy_scout_leader_admits.html

https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/08/16/pennsylvania-child-sex-abuse-catholic-church-closing-argument-cuomo-cpt-vpx.cnn

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/us/pennsylvania-sex-abuse-statute-of-limitations.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

 

Sex Abuse and Statute of Limitations Why We Need the Hidden Predator Law Now More Than Ever

A new grand jury report says that internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania show that more than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.” (CNN)

We’ve worked with many clients on similar cases, including filings against the Darlington School in Rome, Ga, the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council, and two Athens, Georgia churches. While this grand jury report is expansive, laws in place in Pennsylvania make it almost impossible for the victims to achieve justice. In Pennsylvania and many other states, including in Georgia, victims must file suit at a very young age, are allowed little time for discovery, and cannot file criminal charges past a certain point.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, we worked to strengthen Georgia’s Hidden Predator Law, which would have expanded protections for these victims. Those efforts were unsuccessful, but we continue to use every effort avenue available to support victims of childhood sexual abuse and to advocate for changes to the law in Georgia.

See links below to stories about the Pennsylvania cases from CNN and The New York Times.

https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/08/16/pennsylvania-child-sex-abuse-catholic-church-closing-argument-cuomo-cpt-vpx.cnn

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/us/pennsylvania-sex-abuse-statute-of-limitations.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

 

Penn Law Files Suit Against Darlington School

Penn Law filed a lawsuit June 1 in Oconee County on behalf of seven additional former students of Darlington School alleging they were sexually abused by staff members of the school from 1977 to 1988. The total number of students alleging the abuse and represented by the Penn Law Group is 17. Lead attorney on the case, Darren Penn recently spoke with the media about the case.

WSBTV – Seven New Accusers Come Forward in Boarding School Sex Abuse Case

AJC – 17 Former Students Now Allege Sex Abuse at Georgia Boarding School

Rome News-Tribune – 17 File Suits Against Darlington

Coosa Valley News – More Accusers Come Forward in Darlington School Sex Scandal

Hometown Headlines – 17 civil suits filed against Darlington, renewing sexual abuse claims against a former teacher in the ’70s and ’80s.

3/28/18: Georgia’s Sexual Abuse Law Should Protect Children, Not #EntitiesToo

By Emma Hetherington, Director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Clinic

After the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, victims of child sexual abuse and their advocates have been hopeful that they were finally being heard. The public outcry over Nassar’s crimes, along with the #metoo movement, has led to the introduction of new legislation throughout the country that protects victims from abusers and the organizations that harbor them.

In Georgia, the State House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 605 (“HB 605”), which would increase the age by which a victim can file a claim from 23 to 38 and allow a one-year retroactive window under which victims who were previously barred from filing claims could sue their abusers and entities who knew or should have known about the abuse.

Amendments passed in the Senate, however, have threatened to significantly weaken the bill in crucial ways. This has led to a showdown today at the Capitol as proponents of the House version fight for its survival.

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Georgia Senate Changes to Hidden Predator Act Leaves Victims Behind (March 26, 2018)

Senate Version of Hidden Predator Act Leaves Victims Behind

LC 29 8109ERS (SENATE COMMITTEE SUB)

Media Coverage of this issue:

Below are listed the courageous Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse who summoned the strength and courage to come forward and, through testimony, telephone calls, and emails, pleaded with the Georgia Legislature for a shot at justice.

They came forward with their horrifying stories of abuse and the lifetime of harm left for them to deal with and asked for a chance to seek justice from the Sexual Predators and the Entities that had information about the Predators yet failed to take any action to protect Georgia’s children.

Childhood Sexual Abuse has been described as a form of Murder because it literally Kills the Soul of the Victim.

The Georgia Legislature was provided the very real scientific evidence that shows the average victim is not able to come forward until age 42.[1]  Here in Georgia, the average age of the victim asking the Legislature for a chance at justice is 48.[2]  When the Hidden Predator Act of 2015 was passed, this Legislature included a two-year window within which Victims could sue Sexual Predators (without limitations).  At that time, Victims asked for the chance to sue the Entities that literally hid these Predators from Victims, their families, the appropriate authorities, and the public.

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Strengthening Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act – 2018

Georgia Legislature 2018: Strengthening the Hidden Predator Act

Media Coverage of this issue:

Sexual abuse and sexual harassment stories have exploded into the headlines over the past year. But while these stories have been getting more attention of late, the problem is not a new one. A part of our practice focuses on childhood sexual abuse cases that often go back decades, working with people who have claims against individuals, churches, nonprofit organizations, and schools.

Our focus for this legislative session has been to work with our representatives to amend Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act. Key among our goals is to modify the legislation so that it appropriately applies to entities that breed, foster, and then hide their knowledge about the individuals responsible for these horrendous acts.

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Opioid Abuse, Impact on Taxpayers, Legal Options

By Darren Penn, Penn Law

Darren Penn

Our nation’s opioid epidemic has taken an incredible jump in the last few years. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2016 there were 1,394 drug overdose deaths just in Georgia. As the number of overdoses increases, so does the cost for state and local governments to fight the abuse.

Taxpayer costs include: expenses for first responders, law enforcement, the judicial system, treatment centers, and at an alarming rate, coroners. Most of these costs are not typically included in county, city, and state budgets. And, even if they are the line item is never enough to cover the increasing costs.

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