By: Kevin M. Ketner, Penn Law
Spurred into action by the recent Catholic Church child sex abuse scandals, lawmakers from Virginia and Washington, D.C. have announced their intent to propose legislation that would add clergy members to the list of people legally required to report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.
Sexual Abuse Victims: Why They Wait
“Why did she wait so many years?”
That’s the question asked by many during the recent testimony by Christine Blasey Ford at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings. This is a common tactic for those who seek to question the validity of sexual assault allegations which occurred years ago. The implication is that the length of time between the assault and the accusation somehow makes the allegations less credible.
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.
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].”
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.
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.
WSB Radio host Monica Matthews writes about the recent failure by the Georgia Senate to pass a stronger version of the Hidden Predator Act.
Column: Georgia’s Senate leadership fails child sex abuse victims
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.
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. Here in Georgia, the average age of the victim asking the Legislature for a chance at justice is 48. 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.
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.