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.

At the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on March 22, 2018, amendments to HB605 were passed that would decrease the House’s proposed age by which a victim can file a claim from age 30 and would only allow victims under age 31 to access the retroactive window provision. According to committee Chairman Jesse Stone put it, “strike a balance for victims’ rights and the rights of defendants, particularly entities, to due process.” Disappointingly, the overwhelming consensus of the committee seemed to be not #MeToo or #TimesUp, but rather more along the lines of #EntitiesToo.

  • Claims against entities for failing to protect children from sexual predators, such as the one filed by Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman against USA Gymnastics, are authorized by laws meant to serve two major functions: 1) to compensate victims for the harm they’ve incurred, and 2) to punish those responsible for the harm.
  • The harms caused by child sexual abuse extend throughout the lifetime of a victim. Children who are sexually abused are more likely to experience emotional and mental health problems, academic problems, delinquency or crime, and teen pregnancy. As adults, survivors of child sexual abuse are more likely to suffer from depression, report a suicide attempt, have substance abuse, and develop eating disorders.
  • According to the Child Abuse and Neglect Journal, the estimated average lifetime cost per victim of child abuse is over $200,000, which includes expenses such as health care costs, mental health costs, and productivity losses. An award of civil damages helps victims recover these costs, which are often not covered by insurance.

Child sexual abuse lawsuits are meant to impose liability on those who commit the abuse, and perhaps more importantly, those who fail to protect children from the abuse. If the Senate ’s version of HB605 becomes law, fewer victims will have access to the civil justice system. Without such access, perpetrators, and their protective entities, will escape accountability. Prior to the Senate’s amendments, 100 percent of the child sexual abuse victims over the age of 23 who contacted the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic, a pro bono legal clinic at the University of Georgia Law School, would be able to file a lawsuit against their abusers. After the Senate’s amendments? Only 12.5 percent.

It is important to be clear about the primary motivating factor behind such a dramatic reduction. It is not due process, and it is not defendants’ rights. It is prioritizing entities’ business-as-usual over victims’ access to justice.

Individuals who have experienced child sexual abuse often have difficulty trusting others, especially those in positions of authority. In cases of child sexual abuse, the positions of authority are the perpetrators and those controlling members of entities who failed to protect victims.

Another critical position of authority is the elected representative. They have the power to pass laws that will protect children from sexual abuse. They can create laws that alleviate injury and fairly allocate risk. They can articulate a public policy that makes clear: entities who protect abusers will not be safeguarded.

If our legislature truly wants to provide greater protections for victims of child sexual abuse, it will have to answer an important question: can you take a meaningful stand for justice by prioritizing victims over entities? Unfortunately, the Senate’s amendments seem to have already answered that question: #EntitiesToo.

*Emma Hetherington is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law and Director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Clinic. Through the CEASE Clinic Hetherington represents survivors of sexual abuse in civil lawsuits and juvenile court proceedings. Hetherington’s research focuses on trauma-informed interdisciplinary practice and using the courtroom as a place of healing for survivors.

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

  • Lou Ann and Craig Shearer says:

    Both of my sons suffered sexual abuse by a college student I had entrusted their care.
    They were approximately 10 and 12 years old. It was not until the age of 28 that my oldest son told me.
    The individual is now a high school teacher and wrestling coach at a private Catholic high school.
    My oldest son, father of two girls, loving faithful husband, died last September of a heroine overdose.
    His younger brother (severe alcohol abuse) had never been able to maintain a stable close relationship with anyone. Including me or my husband. He has not admitted the abuse to us or anyone, that I know of.
    I am sure of the abuse however. For years, he had not hugged me. Rarely communicates.
    My concerns are of course my sons health. Now 32, I cannot help until he confides in me.
    Although I our story does not fit into the institution aspect of your concerns, the statute of limitations still handicaps those who Need to confront their abuser(s). And to no less a consideration, have some ability to prevent that person from the opportunities to continue their life killing acts.
    By life killing I do not necessarily mean killing as in loss of breath. But killing of the spirit and potential for a healthy and meaningful life. Free of sick and filthy memories.

    Reply
  • to whom it concerns:
    i am a u.s. citizen.i am a senior citizen;and a former resident of new jersey;for 20 years.i was a single mother;at the time;(1976);with y
    three children. i had no family in new jersey.my daughter was 7 years old;and had a learning disability;and my sons;twins;were 13 years old..i volunteered my daughter to her teacher;who lived in another county;she stated;with her husband;and his two teen aged daughters
    by a previous marriage.instead of returning my daughter;she filed charges that i was a neglectful mother to my daughter;and that she
    wanted to adopt her.august25th,1977;i lost my daughter;when the court gave her temporary custody of 3 months;and i temporary visits;
    of three months.(I still have all court documents;as proof;that i have saved from 1976 to 2000;that will prove she kept my daughter;after
    one visit.i found my daughter in 1999;with the help of senator donald t. fransco;(N.J.;but she refused contact;to this day.my question is;
    if your daughter has been kept from you for the past thirty-two years;how would you know if she has been sexually abused;raped;or not.
    because i filed civil ctions pro se from 1977 to 2000;(all were dismissed;i still have the copies;and copies of a letter i received;from
    assignment judge of essex county;where this began;(judge patricia k. costello;;that stated in reply;”your daughter was awarded to the
    teacher;again;december8th,1977;when she and your attorney filed for legal custody.i was not notified;and lived at the same address.
    the attorney;i got for the august25th,1977;”hearing”;charged me no fee;but was on the side of the teacher;and helped her to get my
    daughter.i have no history of mental illness;and the court transcripts of august25th,1977;that i saved;will prove the teacher never
    appeared;only her attorney;and a division of youth & family services supervisor.i have no history of mental illness nor incarcerations.
    my daughter;(we are afro-americans);has been kept from me most of her life by this teacher.(she is caucausian);and believed”used”
    for involuntary servitude.lawyers;who i have asked for help;either want thousands of dollars in retainer fees;or refuse help to the
    closure i and my sons were forced to flee the state;after in 1979;the teacher took the s.s..payee from me;and transferred it to herself;
    and my sons aid for dependent children for my sons;was also terminated the same year;leaving us homeless;for years;until in the
    1980’s i fled to n.y.c.;homeless;and took my sons to seattle,wa;near relatives in the 1980’s.i have no access to the truth;or closure.

    Reply

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