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Protecting children from sex predators | COMMENTARY

Delegate C.T. Wilson stands outside the Maryland House of Delegates in Annapolis. Wilson, a survivor of child sexual abuse who has spoken of his experience as he has advocated for laws to protect children, is sponsoring legislation to end the statute of limitations on when a victim can sue for abuse.
Delegate C.T. Wilson stands outside the Maryland House of Delegates in Annapolis. Wilson, a survivor of child sexual abuse who has spoken of his experience as he has advocated for laws to protect children, is sponsoring legislation to end the statute of limitations on when a victim can sue for abuse. (Brian Witte/AP)

I don’t consider myself a politician. I’m not like my colleagues, and I never will be. I’m a person who has experienced something extremely traumatizing as a child.

As a young boy, I was molested by my adoptive father.

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He was a kindergarten teacher, a Sunday school teacher, and he was a Cub Scout leader. I was scared to speak up. I have no idea how many other children he may have harmed. I’m as sick as all of my secrets, and that’s why it hurts.

To tell my story drowns me in memories I’ve tried to so hard suppress, over and over again. It’s exhausting. It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. This is not something that I want to do. This is not something that I want to feel. But someone needs to be a voice for those who have not found their voice yet.

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Here I am.

That’s why I have sponsored the Hidden Predator Act, which will provide victims in Maryland the opportunity to get justice from their abuser without being restricted to a certain time frame. For adults who do not disclose their abuse in childhood, the average age of coming to grips with what happened to them, and finding the strength to talk about it, is 52.

For future cases, the bill would end the statute of limitations that currently exists in the state on filing a lawsuit. For cases that have already passed the current statute of limitations, it would create a two-year “look back” window for victims to file a claim if they didn’t do so before. This law will make it so that the justice system better protects victims and could expose potential abusers still interacting with kids.

Adult survivors would have the opportunity to pursue a case in civil court and win civil proceeds so that abusers have to pay for what they did to victims. The lifetime economic burden of child sexual abuse in the U.S. in 2015 was about $9.3 billion, according to one recent analysis.

Recent news that the Boys Scouts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy blaming the crippling cost of child abuse lawsuits is not shocking. It’s a common tactic that we see used by many large organizations. By filing for bankruptcy under these circumstances, it allows the organization to change the dynamic for abuse survivors who have yet to come forward.

At a minimum, this tactic prevents survivors from naming their abuser in open court and allows predators to remain hidden in our communities where they can abuse other children. In declaring bankruptcy, the Boy Scouts organization will not be hurt enough to shut down. In its own statements, the group has made it clear that this decision will not impact delivery of programs.

This is one of the many examples and reasons why we are trying to pass The Hidden Predator Act in Maryland.

There is a national shift towards exposing hidden predators by easing civil statute of limitations and offering “look back” windows. The Baltimore Sun reported last year that 23 states passed legislation either extending statutes of limitation, eliminating them or opening windows for filing lawsuits, including Maryland’s neighbors in Delaware, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.

Dozens of states are considering legislation again this year. In states that have “look back” windows, hundreds to thousands of hidden predators have been publicly exposed.

Short statute of limitation laws block justice for the victims and simultaneously protect the perpetrators and institutions. There are two groups of sex abuse victims to consider: the victims whose claims have expired and the children currently being abused.

One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Roughly 57,000 cases of sexual abuse are reported each year. We need to help protect our children because this is not a problem that we can solve on our own.

Children need adults to speak out and to create safe environments for them to prevent abuse from happening before it even starts. Victims need adults to step in and prevent it from continuing and to help them get help when it does. Most of all, we need to bring sex predators out of hiding. The Hidden Predator Act will do that.

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Delegate C.T. Wilson (ct.wilson@house.state.md.us) is a Democrat representing District 28 in Charles County.

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