ATLANTA — Justin Conway testified that he didn’t realize until age 35 that the sexual abuse he suffered as a boy was still affecting him but that when he reached that realization it was too late to prosecute or sue, which is why he told legislators Monday the law should be changed.
“This is what I thought: people who do these things go to jail. But that’s not true,” he said.
Conway was among other male and female victims and their family members who testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, along with legal and psychological experts. One witness said she was in the place of her son who refused to come to the Capitol for fear of encountering the minister-turned lobbyist who had abused him. All supported House Bill 17, the Hidden Predator Act, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine.
The mental and emotional development of child-sexual-abuse victims is often delayed because the perpetrator is usually a trusted, “institutional figure” like a parent, coach or preacher, leaving victims confused until middle age when they have children of their own or even later, according to Dr. Carlene Taylor, a psychologist in St. Marys, Ga., specializing in cases of sexual abuse. She said one in four girls and every fifth boy is a victim, but the frequency of the crime isn’t commonly accepted because victims are reluctant to confront abusers who are respected community members.
Conway said even as an adult, social pressure made it hard for him to accuse the head of a Kingsland martial-arts studio.
“What grown man in a small, insular community wants to say this happened to him?” Conway asked.
Spencer’s legislation would extend the time limit for filing a lawsuit in an attempt to collect civil damages from the current 5 years after the 18th birthday to 35 years, or when the victim reaches age 53.
Angela Williams, founder of the Marietta-based Voice Today foundation for victims, said despite being raped twice daily from age 3 to 17 by her stepfather, she didn’t have the fortitude to take him to court for years.
“Today, at 49 years old, I have the courage, but I don’t have the opportunity,” she said.
As far as lost evidence or faded memories over that span of years, Williams says she had school records of confessions to teachers, medical documents and his abuse of his biological child that she could have used in court. Conway said he was amazed at the details he called about places, times and circumstances once he began telling a police investigator of his claims.
Victims typically have precise recollections, according to Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardoza School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York. And extending the time limit for suits isn’t unconstitutional based on Georgia court rulings, she said.
This is Spencer’s second attempt to pass his bill. The committee approved it last year but not before it ran out of time for the full House and Senate to vote on it.
The subcommittee didn’t vote Monday. Chairman Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, said holding a hearing nine days into the 40-day legislative session provides more time this year. It was the first bill the subcommittee has taken a look at so far.
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