For the second year in a row, he put it all out there: the shame, the fear, the self-loathing, the pain, the dark details of his horrific, repeated rape.
An Army veteran and attorney, Maryland Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) stood before his colleagues in Annapolis, confessed that he “really, really” didn’t want to be there and told them why he doesn’t sleep much at night. Why he hoped his children would never be boys. Why he knows he is “a monster on the inside.”
And for the second year in a row, lawmakers in the state legislature put all that in a drawer. And closed it.
“It’s usually the case when we tell our stories,” Wilson said. “Nobody wants to hear this. And we want to be heard.”
Wilson wants his fellow delegates to understand what the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse endure. And what recourse they have years and years later. And for two years, he has sponsored legislation aimed at helping them.
As it stands, a criminal case against an abuser can be pursued anytime, no matter how long ago the abuse happened.
But a civil case — the kind of action that can get a patient’s treatment paid for — has a statute of limitations. Victims have seven years once they reach adulthood to file a civil suit against a molester or a school, a team or a church that enabled that abuser.
And unless a victim comes to terms with the abuse, recognizes it, fights through it and files a civil suit before age 25, no dice. And that’s a big problem. Because many victims of childhood sexual abuse repress the memories in order to survive. Some even kill themselves.
“I was 38 when I finally [talked about it],” Wilson said. He’s 44.
He spent his early years in and out of foster homes. When he was at last adopted, his adoptive father — a man Wilson described to his colleagues as a churchgoing married man — repeatedly beat, then sodomized him from the time he was 9 until the year he left for the Army, when he was 18.
Tom Wilson, his adoptive father, is dead. Wilson never told anyone about the abuse while he was alive.
What followed was 20 years of bulking up in Army combat training, 20 years of womanizing, rage, short fuses, withdrawal, sleepless nights before he was ready to consider the possibility that all these demons inside him should be addressed.
And he’s hardly alone.
About three-quarters of children who were sexually abused don’t tell anyone for at least a year, about 45 percent keep it a secret for five years, and many never tell anyone, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
But Md. House Bill 1215 and its counterpart, Senate Bill 69, would give victims 20 years to file their suits once they reach adulthood. So, you’d have to decide to confront your abuser by the time you turn 38.
Like Wilson — 38.
A handful of other states, including Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, have extended or have no statutes of limitation. What’s the holdup in Maryland?
Lobbyists representing the Catholic Church — which for years has been at the center of a global scandal over priests sexually abusing children — have helped block the bill.
Passing the legislation is “unwarranted and unjust,” the Maryland Catholic Conference wrote in testimony submitted last month against the bill.
Mostly, the church said, the bill unfairly targets it.
“Private, religious and non-profit organizations would face dramatically greater risks of potentially devastating civil claims,” according to the testimony. Quoting California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) when he vetoed a bill that would have suspended the statute of limitations for civil suits in child sexual assault cases, the testimony continued: “There comes a time when an individual or an organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits.”
The opposition matters. “Maryland is a Catholic state, you know,” said Del. Susan K. McComas (R-Harford).
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) has refused to put the bill up for a vote. He did not respond to my request for comment.
“Vallario knows it will pass,” Wilson said.
But McComas, who said she “may” support the bill if it were to come up for a vote, is skeptical that it would do any good.
“Money isn’t going to cleanse any souls,” McComas said.
She said that was what she meant when she emailed John Plaschke, 50, a University of Maryland biotech researcher and a sexual assault survivor. He had written to McComas urging her to support the bill.
This is what she told him in the email:
I hope that you have sought treatment and have moved beyond the abuse. It is very much about your personal resilience to live and thrive. The best revenge is to be well and be happy.
I think that many of the Jews that survived the holocaust are wonderful role models of courage and survival.
That response made the rounds on social media. And McComas got slammed by survivors furious with her response.
“I meant it in a nice way,” McComas said.
But for Plaschke, for Wilson and for thousands of other survivors, it’s a discouraging and insulting refrain: Move past it.
“We are victimized twice,” said Plaschke, who said he was abused by a priest in Illinois when he was 7. “Once as a child and again as an adult.”
The lives of those abused as children — their perspectives, their sexuality, their morality and their self-worth — were totally twisted when they were in their most delicate, formative years.
The survivors that McComas cited to Plaschke as examples of resilience — “They should look at the survivors of the Bataan Death March,” she told me — had a chance to form normal, moral foundations before they were traumatized.
Kids who were abused? Their entire foundation is corrupted. And they fight to right it their entire lives.
“I’m lucky I’m still alive,” Plaschke said. “A lot of us kill ourselves.”
Wilson said he struggles every day to move forward.
“I slept about an hour and a half last night,” he said. “I know, if I go sleep, I’m not going to dream. I’m going to remember.”
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