TOPEKA, (KSNT)— Survivors of child sexual abuse are urging Kansas lawmakers to pass a bill getting rid of the age limit on when victims can come forward and seek justice.
“As more and more people have realized that from the time the crime happens to the time that a victim is able to talk about it…sometimes years even decades can go past,” Sen. Cindy Holscher, a democrat from Overland Park, said. “It’s called the age of disclosure, which on average, is the age of 52.”
Holscher, along with other democratic lawmakers held a press conference with survivors on Thursday at the Kansas statehouse. Two bills introduced this session would address reform for child sexual abuse victims. One of the proposals, Senate bill 420, would eliminate the deadline for filing civil lawsuits seeking damages for childhood sexual abuse.
Under current law, lawsuits must be filed within three years of the claimant turning 18-years-old or within three years of the claimant discovering that an injury or illness was caused by childhood sexual abuse, whichever is later. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary committee at the start of February but, as of Thursday, no hearing has been scheduled.
Sen. Holscher said there have been delays in the past due to the coronavirus pandemic, but this year has been different.
“This year, while we’ve had a little bit more time to devote to some of these issues, it seems that the bill has stalled,” Holscher said.
Holscher along with other survivors are hoping the bill gets a hearing soon, so it can move forward. Another bill they’re backing, Senate bill 75, also known as “Sheldon’s Law,” would call for mandatory reporting.
“So if there are instances occurring in churches, other places, that mandatory reporting of sexual abuse has to occur,” Holscher said.
One of the survivors named Susan, who spoke during the conference, said she experienced sexual abuse as a child attending church at Holy Cross in Hutchinson in 1967 and 1969.
“What happened to me in school and church should have never happened to me, and it should never happen to any child in the state of Kansas,” Susan said.
Susan said she was “terrorized” and abused during those years, but, like other victims, didn’t speak up until years later.
“The most important word is silence…to be silenced and shamed by what happened…to be silenced and never to speak about what happened,” Susan said.
Others shared heartbreaking stories of sexual abuse from family members at a young age. Another survivor named Joe spoke of physical and sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her grandfather. At the time, she said she was abandoned by her mother and sent to live with her grandparents at the age of 6. She said it graduated from physical abuse to sexual acts.
“Physical abuse included but was not limited to being thrown around my room like a ragdoll and once being beaten until I almost urinated myself,” Joe said. “Throw into this mix emotional abuse. The sexual abuse started as fondling, then moved into oral sex…”
Joe said this was just the “tip of the iceberg” for what she went through for 8 years. She said since her grandfather was respected in the community and by the church, she was unable to run away or get help. During the time she spent in a foster home after finally being removed, she talked to her Catholic priest, whose advice was to “go back home and pray that the situation gets better.”
“How can anyone tell a child to go back to being sexually abused and ‘pray’ that it gets better?” Joe continued. “I knew that that was really code for your grandfather is President of the altar guild and a significant financial contributor to the church, so I’m not going to do anything to help you out.”
Other survivors, like Terin Humphrey and Kim Bergman, experienced abuse in the world of gymnastics. Humphrey, an Olympic silver medalist and four-time Hall of Fame inductee, is one of several gymnasts who were abused by Larry Nassar. She spoke about why it took her years to come forward.
“I couldn’t talk to anyone without crying… I couldn’t function…I couldn’t get out of bed,” Humphrey, the 2004 Olympic gymnast, said. “I’m 35-years-old. I was 33 when I finally came forward…13 years after I was abused to even admit what had happened.”
Kim Bergman, said she was 12 years old when her gymnastics coach, David Byrd, began abusing her.
“David Byrd had a reputation in the gymnastics community for inappropriate behavior,” Bergman said. “Unfortunately, those rumors went ignored and he was granted unlimited access to children.”
On a team trip to Bart Conner’s Gymnastics Camp one summer, Bergman recalled memories of being sexually assaulted.
“Later that night we were all in the hotel room watching TV together. David gave me a massage on the bed and would put his hands inside my shirt to touch my breasts, undetected by anyone else. I froze. I was terrified that someone would see what was happening. I finally got up and sat behind him to try to get away from the abuse. Instead, David turned and glared at me and asked in a way that I will never forget, ‘Why did you move?’ He then reached his hand behind him, between my legs, and continued to touch me. I was trapped.”Kim Bergman, Child Sexual Abuse Survivor
Lawmakers and survivors like Bergman are hoping Kansas will take steps toward helping other victims seek justice.
“We need to take control,” Bergman said. “Sexual offenders need to know that they cannot continue with the crimes that they’re committing, and no matter how long it takes the survivor to come forward, their crimes will be exposed.”