“I met my abuser in a restaurant. Our table was surrounded by investigators who heard him confess. All I ever wanted to do was get him off the street. I cannot because of our laws. HB 1947’s fate is in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Catholic Church and others stand in the way of reforming Pa.’s child sex abuse statute of limitations.”
| 6/22/16 |Kristen Pfautz Woolley | York Daily Record |
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. From the ages 10-12, I was repeatedly violated by a man my parents trusted. My abuse only ended when my abuser became engaged to be married. I remember feeling relief that my nightmare was over; now someone else would take care of my abuser’s sexual needs. I didn’t understand at age 12 it was not over, nor would it ever be over. I did not understand that my abuse was something I would have to learn to carry.
My first lesson that it would never end came when I was 17. It had been five years since I had seen my abuser. I ran into him at a local town carnival. There he was pushing his newborn child in a stroller. He creepily proceeded to tell me how much he enjoyed changing the child’s diapers because he found it fascinating to look at the child’s anatomy – a flashback-inducing conversation that sent a cold chill down my spine. I was left paralyzed in fear. This was his own child he was talking about.
I summoned the courage to report my abuse at the age of 25. It was only then that I learned I had waited too long. I lost my criminal rights at age 14 and my civil rights at age 18. To my horror, I also learned that he now had more children and had access to children at his place of employment. I could do nothing.
Five years later, his own sister in law called me and directly asked me, “Did he violate you?”
I replied, “Yes, why do you ask?”
“I fear he has harmed my daughters,” she glumly answered.
I begged her to please report her suspicions. I will speak on your behalf, I will share my story, I told her. Sadly, I never heard from her again.
Silence and protection of a secret is simply more important to some people and institutions than the protection of a child.
I decided enough was enough. I wanted to focus on protecting my abuser’s children or any other children he could molest. I decided the only option left to me was to tell the truth to his wife and share the burden of responsibility with her, their mother.
Legally, I knew I couldn’t just accuse him without the very real threat of a slander or defamation lawsuit. I needed incontrovertible proof. I needed nothing short of his own confession. I took a bold step to obtain that proof.
With no options, I could only think of one choice left to protect his children. I hired a well-respected private investigation firm and a plan was formed. I contacted my abuser and told him I was having problems processing what he had done to me and needed some measure of closure by discussing it with him personally. He agreed to meet with me.
I would meet my abuser in a public restaurant, and unbeknownst to him our table was surrounded by private detectives, some of whom were former police officers who understood all too well the legal requirements of a confirmed confession. The management of the restaurant was asked to turn the music down because there was a patron who was hearing impaired. Each and every private detective surrounding us at adjacent tables clearly heard him confess that he had molested me and then apologize for what he had done to me as a 10-year-old little girl. I had my proof and it cost me thousands of dollars to obtain.
Legally, every attorney I spoke with told me I had him dead to rights but couldn’t do anything about it because the statute of limitations had expired. I can’t legally do anything to stop a self-confessed child rapist. I cannot protect his children or any child within his reach.
With proof in hand, I was able to give my truth to my abuser’s wife. I gave her the report from the private investigators in which he admitted to sexually abusing me. I told my abuser’s wife what he said he liked to do to her eldest child as he changed the child’s diapers – of her own sister’s phone call years earlier. I found myself holding her in my arms as she dry heaved and nearly fell to the ground disgusted by her own husband’s confession in the private detective’s reports. In his own words, she learned the truth about the man she was married to.
Knowing I could do nothing else, I made her promise she would obtain help for her children. I trusted her, mother to mother, to do the right thing, protect her children and her grandchild. She promised. I believed and trusted her word. She promised she would call me with an update. I had done all that I could. I trusted her and now they would be safe.
She never called. I later saw evidence that they were still together. Betraying her charge as mother and the trust of her children, she looked the other way and ignored his horrible acts.
All I ever wanted to do was get him off the street. I cannot because of our laws. This man is still out there. He is still out there because of institutions like the Catholic Church, which fights to stop legislative reform that would protect child victims from the abuse of serial pedophiles. The Catholic Church fights to stop reform that would hold it financially accountable for the abuse its clergy committed and which the church has intentionally tried to hide. The Catholic Church has been lobbying very hard to stop any statute of limitation reform.
I am not Catholic.
I joined advocates for reform throughout Pennsylvania. I learned the fight to open up the two-year retroactive civil window has been an ongoing effort for years. A bill to expand the window was blocked, in large part, due to the efforts of Rep. Ron Marsico, a practicing Catholic. Rep. Marsico is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where he actively refused for years to hold a hearing to discuss opening the two-year retroactive civil window. After over a decade of fighting to protect children and give victims their rightful day in court, HB 1947 only passed out of the House Judiciary committee under Chairman Marsico in April due to growing public pressure from the Altoona-Johnstown archdiocese scandal.
Nevertheless, the bill left the House Judiciary Committee without the civil window and had to be amended on the floor. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of the Catholic Church, the civil window was capped at age 50. This means that if someone is a victim of child sexual abuse with “expired” rights and is over the age of 50, he or she has no right to come forward and the abuser is free to continue to harm children.
So now we sit today with HB 1947’s fate in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This committee recently held a hearing to address the constitutionality of opening the two-year retroactive civil window under the proposed bill. I encourage you, the reader, to take a few moments to read some of the news coverage from this hearing.
I attended the hearing and felt truly nauseous as I realized that the fate of my ability to confront my abuser in a court of law lay in the hands of 14 Senate Judiciary Committee members, of whom fewer than half chose to attend the hearing in its entirety. Powerless, yet again, I watched as my hope to protect children from the pedophile who raped me began to fade as a law professor from a Catholic University began to explain why in his judgment the window might violate the Constitution of Pennsylvania. Yes, a professor from a Catholic university was accepted by this committee to impartially give his legal opinion on a decision that would directly affect the Catholic Church.
The lobbying actions of the Catholic Church seek to prevent me and potentially thousands of other victims, both Catholics and non-Catholics, from protecting innocent children from abuse. It is my opinion that the responsibility for every child that has been harmed after me by my abuser rests with the Catholic Church and on the shoulders of church officials who focus constituent pressure on elected officials for the church’s benefit.
I am not sure who God would hold in lesser stead, the rapist of children or the institution and men that would actively and consciously choose not to protect them in God’s name. Every legislator who actively opposes the passage of the opening of the one-time, two-year civil window for victims of child sexual abuse with timed out legal rights also bears responsibility for playing a role in protection of pedophiles. If the retroactivity portion is stricken from the bill, another 20 years of child rapists will be protected from exposure.
I now wait to see if Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf and the committee members will pass HB 1947 with the two-year retroactive civil window on to the Senate floor for a full vote and then send it on to Gov. Wolf to sign. I wait to see if the Senate will allow the determination of its constitutionality to be decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
I wait to see if I can stop my abuser within the next decade.
I wait to see if I can protect his great grandchildren.
I am not Catholic.
Kristen Pfautz Woolley is founder and clinical director of Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center in York.