August 22, 2019
In 1970, a predator working at my high school sensed a vulnerability in me and began “grooming” me. He showed me more attention than I was used to, which made me feel special. When he first touched me inappropriately, I froze. He said I let him do it and used the fear and shame I felt to silence me and escalated the abuse throughout my senior year. My graduation ended the ordeal, and I vowed to myself I would carry my secret with me to the grave.
I moved on, or so I thought. But the shame that was used to shut me up didn’t disappear. I pushed it out of my mind, but it ate away at me from the inside like rust corroding an iron structure in a place no one can see. Over the next twenty years, that structure slowly corroded until I crashed and burned. It took forty-five years before I found the inner strength to report the abuse to my former school. Today, I am grateful for years of therapy and 12 Step recovery and count myself among the lucky survivors who can tell their story.
Valentine’s Day, 2019, marked the signing of the Child Victims Act and the culmination of a 15-year David vs. Goliath battle to change New York State’s archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations law for child sexual abuse. With his signature, the Governor gave survivors an opportunity to right a terrible wrong done to them as children.
Before the Child Victims Act, sexual abuse survivors had to seek justice by their 23rd birthday. Otherwise, their abuser was free to abuse still more children with impunity. The average age for an adult to disclose being sexually abused as a child is fifty-two, thirty years too late. Predators and their enablers had only to run out the clock, which they did over and over again.
Today survivors can choose to file a lawsuit or not, but those twenty-three or over on the day the bill was signed, February 14th, must do so before August 14th, 2020. It is a very personal decision, which only the survivor can make. I am a survivor, and here is how I made my decision.
I decided to bring legal action against my high school because my school’s administration did not protect me. They allowed a seasoned sexual predator unfettered access to vulnerable children, including me, and gave him free rein to operate as he wished. As a result, my high school experience did more to cripple me than prepare me to make my mark on the world.
What Will I Gain by Suing my School?
First, I am looking for answers that there is no other way to obtain but in court. Why was he able to do this to me; who else may have suffered the same fate? Second, I believe that telling my story under oath allows me to be seen, heard, and believed by a jury of my peers. Lastly, an outcome in my favor could provide some security in my senior years. My healing has required spending a large amount of money on therapy over the years, and I’m glad I did. It would be nice to get repaid for it and for what I went through for all of those years.
Suing abusers and those who shielded them is not everyone’s cup of tea. No one should feel compelled to file a lawsuit because some window will open and close. But everyone deserves to be heard and believed. If you were sexually abused as a child and have never told anyone, please find someone to confide in. Find help at one of the many caring organizations (www.SafeHorizon.org or www.SNAPnetwork.org) that offer support to survivors of sexual violence. They can help.
The scars of childhood sexual abuse never wholly disappear, as if the damage never happened. Sexual violence stole our childhoods from us. But as adults, we can learn we are survivors despite what we were forced to endure as children. If you are a survivor yourself, you are not alone. If you know a survivor, let them know they are not alone. Everyone deserves to heal.