When I first began to speak out against child sexual abuse, sharing my own story coupled with the message that “it’s OK to tell,” I was brought to my knees by the number of survivors who found their voices “too late.”
I put that phrase in quotation marks because it is never too late to tell, or to heal from the trauma caused by horrific childhood abuse — but from a legal standpoint, the clock begins ticking on the statute of limitations from the moment the abuse ends. Once the clock stops, the opportunity to seek justice in a court of law expires, along with the opportunity to stop a predator in their tracks.
I learned that I was in the minority of child sex abuse victims who ring the alarm of abuse while it is still going on. In fact, 75% of children wait at least a year, 45% don’t tell for at least five, and too many wait until their ability to achieve justice has ended. Shame, guilt, fear and manifestations of trauma — including eating disorders, addiction and other challenges — often leave victims focused squarely on survival, sometimes for years, even decades.
Armed with this information, I knew something had to change. So we began to fight for those who needed time to tell and to heal. After all, the aftermath of abuse stays with victims their whole lives — there is no clock to run out. Why shouldn’t the same hold true for abusers?
This month marks 10 years since the veil of injustice was lifted and hard-fought legislation was enacted to eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual assault committed against children under the age of 16. We battled against well-funded opposition, including the Catholic Church, but legislators stood strong for victims and voted for what they knew in their hearts to be right.
Back in 2010, I was only able to advocate for the passage of that legislation from outside the system. Now as a state Senator, I’m honored to lend a louder voice for victims and not only advocate for change but cast a vote for it. This past session, I was honored to lend support in the passage of Donna’s Law, which expanded the statute of limitations law of 2010 by removing the statute of limitations provision for children over the age of 16 who faced sexual abuse.
We have come a long way in the past decade towards paving the way for victims to get justice, but the road ahead is long and our work is far from over — an understanding exemplified last week when President Donald Trump sent well wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, a co-conspirator of child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein. While this is only the latest of many insults added to injury for survivors of Epstein’s heinous acts, we must not be discouraged or deterred.
I will continue my work to embolden victims and survivors of abuse through legislative action, public advocacy and awareness as we fight for true systemic change. You, too, can make a difference by reporting abuse when there is cause for suspicion, helping spread the message that “it’s OK to tell,” and supporting survivors. Together, we can shine light into the darkness and create a world where the abuse and exploitation of children is no longer tolerated.