Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) at the State House in Annapolis late last month. (Brian Witte/AP)
Columnist

It’s embarrassing and painful every time he does it. It never gets easier.

After the third time Maryland Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) stood before his colleagues to revisit his years of sexual abuse as a child, the beefy Army veteran in a fine-cut lawyer suit thought it would be over.

“I thought I’d done something,” said Wilson, 47. “I was going around the country, helping other states do the same work.”

But it wasn’t over, even after his fellow legislators finally listened to him, his horrible story of trauma, and passed a law that gives adults who were sexually abused as children more time to file civil suits.

Wilson is back out there this week — the nervous movements, the strained voice — even though “it was very painful to get back into it.”

And here’s why. He wants to send a message to sexual predators, pedophiles and the institutions that harbor them: Maryland is sick of being their sanctuary state.


Wilson during a General Assembly session late last month. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

“Maryland,” Wilson said, “had become a dumping ground for the Catholic Church,” a place to stash pedophile priests because of the state’s “soft laws.”

Wilson argues that the 1,400-page Pennsylvania grand-jury report last year shows that Maryland was one of the prime places for society’s monsters to dodge the long-buried secrets of their sexual offenses, because of the still-narrow statute of limitations. Plus, additional language embedded in recent legislation creates an even narrower window that keeps cases from being retroactive, thus protecting the Catholic Church.

Sure, a criminal case could be pursued by someone abused as a child at anytime in Maryland. But a civil suit — the kind of thing that can cost a church or a school millions of dollars and public exposure — had to be filed within seven years of adulthood. So if you weren’t ready to confront your shame in open court by your 25th birthday in Maryland, tough luck.

This bothered Wilson because of the way he managed his demons. He was in foster care as a child. When he was adopted, his father, Tom Wilson, beat and sodomized him from the time he was 9 until he was 18.

Tom Wilson is dead. C.T. Wilson never told anyone about the abuse while he was alive.

Instead he did all kinds of things to avoid talking — or even thinking — about his nightmare childhood.

He joined the Army, became a beast in combat training, womanized, raged, sulked and never slept a full night for 20 years. The nightmares woke him every single night.

But he had a breakthrough at 38 and he finally began counseling, began healing.

And in 2015, after years as a successful lawyer, a father of three girls and a respected state delegate, he stood in front of his peers and finally told them. It wasn’t cathartic, he said. It was terrifying. And totally utilitarian.

He did it to support a bill that would give victims 20 years to file a civil suit after reaching adulthood.

That means people sexually abused as children would have to confront their abuser by the time they’re 38. See that? 38.

The House of Delegates heard him, members shifting uncomfortably. But they didn’t listen. They put his bill in a drawer in 2015.

“It’s usually the case when we tell our stories,” Wilson told me in April of 2016, when he summoned up the courage to tell the story again while reintroducing the bill. “Nobody wants to hear this. And we want to be heard.”

And again, it was ignored; the House didn’t even bring it up for a vote. But something changed in 2017.

After he gathered his courage to tell the story of his abuse, his shame, his lifelong struggle to reckon with it for the third year in a row, his colleagues listened.

The Catholic Church lobbyists who opposed his past bills were quieter. And at the time, the USA Gymnastics scandal that showed our golden team was being sexually abused by their doctor was beginning to unfold, exposing yet again the pervasiveness of child abuse and the brazen cunning of predators.

So finally, on April 4, 2017, Wilson stood beside Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) as he signed the bill that Wilson fought so hard for.

Back then, he was relieved the battle was over. But it wasn’t.

The Catholic Church report from Pennsylvania set it back into motion. Wilson drew the lines tracing priests back to Maryland and realized that even the way his 2017 bill was worded, the church was relatively safe from really old civil suits.

Wilson introduced another bill, this one lifting the statute of limitations completely as more and more states are widening their investigations into decades-old sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

The new legislation includes a two-year “look back window,” allowing victims who previously couldn’t file a civil case to do so retroactively until October 2021.

One of The Post’s Annapolis reporters, Erin Cox, wrote about it when the House gave preliminary approval Saturday.

But the bill is unlikely to pass the Maryland Senate, Wilson said.

And that means he will have to keep fighting, even though he doesn’t want to.

“Emotionally, it does a horrible job on my psyche. My kids, they see how cranky I am when I’m doing this,” he said. “I was hoping this wasn’t the legacy I’m leaving.”

But he believes he’s the one who has to do it.

And no, he still hasn’t slept through the night.

Twitter: @petulad