Kristen Pfautz Woolley: Pa. Senate committee has chance to help sexual abuse victims

“I summoned the courage to report my abuse at the age of 25. I learned I had waited too long. I lost my criminal rights at age 14 and my civil rights at age 18 because of Pennsylvania’s statutes of limitations at that time. To my horror, I also learned that he now had more daughters and was employed as a school janitor.”

| 6/23/16 | Kristin Woolley, guest post | The Morning Call |

I am not Catholic.

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. From the ages of 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. I didn’t understand at age 12 that it was not over, nor would it ever be over.

At the age of 17, I ran into him at a local town carnival. He was pushing his newborn daughter in a stroller. He creepily proceeded to tell me how much he enjoyed changing her diapers because he found it fascinating to look at her anatomy.

I summoned the courage to report my abuse at the age of 25. I learned I had waited too long. I lost my criminal rights at age 14 and my civil rights at age 18 because of Pennsylvania’s statutes of limitations at that time. To my horror, I also learned that he now had more daughters and was employed as a school janitor.

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 hired a private investigation firm, contacted my abuser and arranged to meet him. He didn’t know we were surrounded by private detectives, who clearly heard him confess that he had molested me and then apologize for what he had done to me as a 10-year-old girl.

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. Despite this, I had to do something to stop him.

With proof in hand, I spoke with my abuser’s wife and watched her dry-heave in disgust by her own husband’s confession in the private detective’s reports. I made her promise she would obtain help for her children. She never called. Nine months later, my rapist’s wife posted a photo of herself on Facebook renewing her wedding vows with a self-confessed child molester.

All I ever wanted to do was get him off the street. I cannot because of our laws. This man is still out there because of institutions like the Catholic Church, which fights to stop legislative statute-of-limitations reform because it would be held financially accountable for the abuse its clergy committed and the church tried to hide.

I am not Catholic.

I joined advocates for reform throughout Pennsylvania. I learned the fight to expose more child molesters by opening up a two-year retroactive civil window in the statute of limitations has been an ongoing effort for years, blocked without so much as a committee hearing, mostly because of strong Catholic Church opposition.

It took growing public pressure from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report in March to finally get House Bill 1947 through the House in April. It would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations and increase the civil limit from age 30 to 50, retroactively, but without the two-year window. Still, it’s a big step forward.

We sit today with HB 1947’s fate in the hands of Senate Judiciary Committee members, fewer than half of whom chose to attend the entire hearing last week on the constitutionality of the retroactive provision. If that portion is stricken from the bill, another 20 years of child rapists will be protected from exposure.

The Catholic Church continues its lobbying against extending the civil statute of limitations, seeking to prevent me and potentially thousands of other victims, Catholics and non-Catholics, from protecting innocent children from abuse.

I now wait to see if the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate will pass HB 1947 in its entirety or will choose to protect predators by gutting or rejecting it, blaming a constitutional question that clearly should be decided by the state 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 the founder and clinical director of Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center in York.

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