All sex abuse survivors deserve a day in court

FEB 17, 2022 AT 5:00 AM

Over the course of almost five decades and across two countries, the man who abused me and countless others — track coach and former Olympian Conrad Mainwaring — used his Olympic status to gain access to young male athletes in order to manipulate and abuse them. During Mainwaring’s time working at Syracuse University in the early 1980s, he abused me and many others under the deception of coaching and mentorship.

Because of New York State’s Child Victims Act (CVA), which was signed into law three years ago this month, I had legal recourse — but most of my fellow survivors do not.

I was a high school student at the time the abuse started and under the age of 18, which meant I was eligible to file a civil lawsuit thanks to the CVA’s lookback window. Most survivors of Mainwaring’s abuse were in college and 18 or older. Now, many years later, with the statute of limitations long passed, survivors who were adults are barred from any chance to pursue justice and have no recourse. That’s why I am fighting for passage of the Adult Survivors Act (ASA).

Before the CVA lookback window closed last August, thousands of survivors across the state filed cases against their abusers. These included Virginia Giuffre, who just settled her claim against Prince Andrew. The ASA would do the same exact thing, giving survivors who were over the age of 18 at the time of their abuse one year to go to civil court to sue their abuser — or the institutions that covered up or enabled the abuse — no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

The ASA passed the state Senate unanimously last session but it languished in the Assembly. Just a few weeks into a new session, the Senate bill passed the Judiciary Committee and it is now making its way through the chamber.

When New York passed the CVA in 2019, lawmakers recognized that trauma’s impact on the brain, as well as the guilt and shame many survivors feel in the wake of their abuse, can delay victims’ disclosure time. As a medical professional, I know that trauma weakens our ability to remember details chronologically.

Although my abuse happened almost 40 years ago, I spoke of it to no one. I tried to rationalize it in silence. It was not until I connected with other survivors and realized the extent of the abuse and that I was not alone that I came forward.

I have since learned that it is very common for victims to keep sexual abuse silent for many years. Often there is no conscious memory of the abuse and it can manifest in other ways, such as irrational anger, addictions or unexplained physical ailments. Each person processes it differently, but by the time a survivor might come forward, restrictive statutes of limitations prevent them from holding their abusers accountable.

With the CVA, lawmakers also recognized the lengths that institutions — including the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts — will go to prevent survivors of sexual abuse from seeking justice in our courts. They recognized that for decades survivors had been swept under the rug, turned away from law enforcement, or shamed into silence.

By refusing to give that same right to survivors who happened to be over the age of 18 at the time of their abuse, it is as though some lawmakers are saying that when you turn 18, you will suddenly have the maturity, sophistication and wherewithal to identify abuse and defend yourself against serial predators. When we’re talking about a kind of crime that profoundly affects a victim for a lifetime, is there really a difference between 17 and 18 years old, or 16 and 20, or even 40?

There is no age at which we are safe from exploitation and abuse. It’s a completely arbitrary distinction.

Credible estimates say that nearly one out of every six men has been sexually abused — whether as an adult or child. All victims feel a sense of shame, but for men, that shame is bound up in masculinity. Many men who have experienced sexual assault think that we should have somehow been physically strong enough to fight off the abuser, or that we are somehow “less of a man” for having been victimized.

Because of those extra doses of shame and subsequent confusion, all of Mainwaring’s victims have carried around his secret. We’ve become part of a strange fraternity that we never wanted to be a part of.

Our abuser used his authority and our trust in him to betray us for his own deviant gratification. But without the Adult Survivors Act, most of his survivors will continue to have no legal recourse. Justice is long, long overdue.

Druger is an eye surgeon.

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