Statute of limitations on sexual abuse needs a fix

By Claudia Vercellotti

March 28, 2014

Supposedly to give child sex-abuse victims a chance to expose their perpetrators, Ohio legislators passed a unique law in 2007. It's called a “civil registry” for those found in a civil proceeding to have molested kids. There is just one problem: It doesn’t work.

We know this because recently The Dispatch was the first news outlet in seven years to follow up on the measure. It reported that the registry has never once been utilized.

I predicted it never would be because the registry was unfunded, complicated and likely unconstitutional. I also know how child sex-abuse victims think. That’s because I am one. The “ grooming” started when I was 12; the sexual abuse ended when I left for college. For years, I had silently suffered from shame, guilt and self-destructive behavior. And I had shouldered a quiet burden. I believed — and still believe — that if I didn’t speak up and another kid got hurt by the church leader who molested me, I was somehow responsible.

In 1996, I learned the man who assaulted me was still on the diocesan payroll and was taking young girls to the same places where he abused me. Consumed with fear, I went to my bishop in Toledo and painfully spared him no graphic detail. He didn’t tell me that 12 months prior, four other victims had already reported being abused by the same church official.  I went to the police but was told that the statute of limitations had expired, and my perpetrator couldn't be criminally charged.  Like many, I had no recourse.

In 2002, I read in the newspaper that California lawmakers had a temporarily opened up a one-year civil “window,” letting anyone molested by anyone at any time file a civil lawsuit against those who committed and concealed those crimes.

For the first time in 22 years, I felt hope. After all, if California could do it, why couldn’t Ohio? With that hope — and plenty of fear and shame — I made more than 100 trips to Columbus, logging 26,000 miles over the next five years, trying to persuade lawmakers to reform state laws to protect kids.

I was joined by hundreds of other survivors of child sexual abuse from all walks of life. We ranged in ages from 18 to 85, from college students to homemakers, educators, military professionals, firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, mental-health practitioners and a retired professional football player, to name a few. Eventually, we even recruited a few brave priests and nuns. In an unprecedented move, a bishop, against whom the church hierarchy now has retaliated time and time again, publicly joined us as a sexual-abuse survivor.

Prosecutors and law-enforcement officials wrote letters of support. Hundreds of concerned Ohioans testified in favor at hearings. Victims and their loved ones took leave from work and traveled hundreds of miles waiting to be heard.

In the end, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed a civil “window.” But it was gutted in the House when Republican lawmakers buckled under pressure from Catholic bishops and “compromised,” replacing the window with an unprecedented, unenforceable, unfunded, toothless civil registry.

To date, no other states have attempted a registry. But in the intervening seven years, three other states have followed California’s lead and temporarily suspended the civil statute of limitations. They’ve given victims of child sex crimes a chance in court to protect kids by exposing child predators and those employers who provided them cover. The child predators exposed in these states are a direct result of creating a civil window  because the criminal statutes had expired.

As a result, hundreds of child molesters and those employers who covered for them in Minnesota, Hawaii and Delaware have been exposed, fired, suspended and sued.  Most important, these child predators no longer have unfettered access to kids and a license to prey. Kids are safer because of it.

Shouldn't Ohio kids be protected, too?

I’m grateful that this issue — whether to extend or eliminate Ohio’s predator-friendly statute of limitations — is gaining attention again. Isn’t it time that lawmakers fix for good what they failed to fix seven years ago?  What motivation could lawmakers possibly have that is more important than ensuring the safety of Ohio’s kids?

Claudia Vercellotti of Toledo is a leader in the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests. 

Showing 2 comments

  • Elizabeth Fahling
    followed this page 2014-03-30 10:13:42 -0500
  • Marge Miller
    commented 2014-03-30 09:43:09 -0500
    I feel all of the offenders names should be listed. I personally talked to Bishop Kevin Rhodes. We wanted The priest priest that got at least 10 that we know of to be put on the Bishops accountability list. Bishop Rhodes said since he was dead it could be hurtful to his family to see his name on this list.
    My second subject covered was, it is hard for a lot of victims to see priests in their garments for Mass and others have a problem seeing their collars. I told him I knew the church requires you to attend Massag least once a year during the
    Easter Season to be aCatholic in good standing. I asked if once a year during Easter season a Mass could be said in the Knights Of Columbus hall with the priest in street clothes. I was told NO.

    I do not understand why the priests need all the fancy attire. I know each one is to represent different times in the church calendar. I also know Jesus dressed like everyone else. So to even allow victims to attend Mass during the Easter Season there can not be any exceptions made.

    I also asked for funding for counselors, a location that victims could gather to help support each other as the priests have their retreats. That the church could help provide transportation for those in need. The answer was NO.

    I asked for funding for a web site that victims could just communicate with each other. I told Rhodes how healing it is to talk to others that have gone through the same thing. The answer was NO. I asked for a phone number that victims could reach out to talk to someone that has gone through the same thing. It could be victims coul run this. The answer was NO.

    As far as statue of limitations. There is no statue of limitations to our suffering.
    My grand daughter and I went to Mass during the “Welcome Home Catholics”. During the homily the priest was giving reasons some Catholics have fallen away from the church. He said mixed marriages, jobs, etc., etc., then he concluded it with. SOME WERE HURT.
    I got up and left. They were able to once again to penetrate my heart. Hurt is something that heals. I know what this has done to my life has effected me, my husband, my children, onto my grand children, and now there is still some residuals my great grand children are experiencing.

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