You might think after decades of horrible sexual abuses perpetrated by people in authority over innocent and trusting individuals that law and policy would reflect every reality faced by the victims in a litigious society. But you would be wrong. Even today, victims of sexual abuse still face the humiliation of the original abuse and the subsequent abuses associated with having to face it and report it.
Just this month, a new law took effect removing the statute of limitations on childhood victims of sexual abuse in Utah. But the law has not gone far enough in my opinion. We should extend this legal courtesy to anyone sexually abused by someone in authority – be they subject to a parent or guardian, an employer, a school teacher, a youth leader, a law enforcement officer, a caretaker or, yes, even an ecclesiastical leader.
Here is the legislative preface to the new law removing the statute of limitations in certain, but not all, cases of sexual abuse:
The Legislature finds that:
(a) child sexual abuse is a crime that hurts the most vulnerable in our society and destroys lives;
(b) research over the last 30 years has shown that it takes decades for children and adults to pull their lives back together and find the strength to face what happened to them;
(c) often the abuse is compounded by the fact that the perpetrator is a member of the victim’s family and when such abuse comes out, the victim is further stymied by the family’s wish to avoid public embarrassment;
(d) even when the abuse is not committed by a family member, the perpetrator is rarely a stranger and, if in a position of authority, often brings pressure to bear on the victim to ensure silence;
(e) in 1992, when the Legislature enacted the statute of limitations requiring victims to sue within four years of majority, society did not understand the long-lasting effects of abuse on the victim and that it takes decades for the healing necessary for a victim to seek redress;
(f) the Legislature, as the policy-maker for the state, may take into consideration advances in medical science and understanding in revisiting policies and laws shown to be harmful to the citizens of this state rather than beneficial; and
(g) the Legislature has the authority to change old laws in the face of new information, and set new policies within the limits of due process, fairness, and justice.
Why are not these same considerations granted to anyone sexually abused by someone in authority?
The current case of the woman allegedly sexually abused by the former president of the LDS Missionary Training Center in Provo, back in 1984, is a good example of what I am talking about. She was not a child when the alleged sexual abuse occurred. Presumably, based on church missionary policies in those days, she would have been a young adult in her early twenties.
Fast forward thirty years and the woman is now suing the LDS Church and the former MTC mission president for the alleged sexual abuses – holding both the man and his authority responsible for the abuses. Listen to that again – the man and his authority. Regardless of this woman’s age at the time, she believed that the MTC mission president was an official representative of the LDS Church and, without a doubt, acting with faith, the Lord’s servant in that part of His vineyard. Looking outside-in we can rationalize any sense of expected objectivity on her part. “She should have known better.” “She should have reported it immediately or, at the very least, within a four year window of time.” “Surely she could have recovered enough emotionally in four years.”
Easy for you to say. I am not trying to litigate this case. I am simply suggesting that the statute of limitations in these cases of sexual abuse ought to extend to cases where clear authority is involved. Of course, these cases are complicated. Both the victim and the accused have rights and a statute of limitations generally makes sense for all of the reasons given by defendants. But that is generally speaking. There are (or should be) exceptions to these rules.
Let me add a comment I do not need to add here. Frankly, I am embarrassed that my church would stoop to legal technicalities to settle this particular MTC case or any other case of alleged sexual abuse. I am embarrassed that my church was not pro-active in behalf of the alleged victim. You would think that the problems in other churches with sexual abuse might have provided an example of how NOT to handle these situations. But to address this woman’s trauma through a legal technicality, such as a statute of limitations, is bad form, beyond the pale and, frankly, un-Christ-like.