Testimony on SB 345

Me as a child. Photographer unknown.

Note:  Wisconsin Senate Bill 345, otherwise known as the Child Victims Act, was introduced in December of 2011.  It removes the statute of limitations on bringing damages against a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.  Current Wisconsin law precludes a victim/survivor from filing suit after the age of 35 years old.  The bill was referred to the Committee on Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce, and Government Operations, where it has been sitting since December.  This was testimony written with the intent to deliver it to the committee at a public hearing on the bill.  Unfortunately, with about a week left to go in the legislative session Committee Chair Zipperer has still not scheduled the bill for a hearing.  Please contact him or other committee members to ask that this bill gets a public hearing and moves out of committee. 

Testimony on SB 345:

     To summarize in just a few minutes why Senate Bill 345 is important and should be passed is an impossible task.  A man cannot give an elevator speech on almost eight years of childhood sex abuse and a lifetime of post-traumatic stress syndrome and other effects.  But these effects are the kind of reality that one in four females and one in six males deals with on a daily basis in this society.  Think about that.  The statistical likelihood is that one of you sitting on this committee was abused as a child.  And due to the secretive and shame-filled nature of child sex abuse it is perhaps even likelier that more than one of you suffered sex abuse as a child.  And you may not have ever told anyone about it.

     I am going to talk to you a little about my abuse.  I stand before you as an adult survivor and I understand there is always more empathy for a child than for an adult.  So I ask you to imagine me as a ten-year old boy, or think of a child you may know.  At ten I was short and skinny, one of the two shortest boys in my class.  I was not real athletic and I was not that strong.  My strength has come only after many years of building up my mind, body, and soul.  But think of a ten-year old boy that you may know—even the biggest boys at that age are no match for someone older, bigger, and stronger.  I was ten when my abuse started.

     We can’t discuss this bill honestly if we don’t discuss the reasons for it honestly, so I must be as brutal in relating it as my perpetrator was brutal to me.  At ten years old my hands were tied to the leg of a piece of furniture and my feet to another piece of furniture, my pants were pulled down, and I was molested.  I was ten and I was small.  I struggled to free myself to no avail.  I pleaded and was not heard.  That was my first sexual experience.

     The abuse continued for almost eight years.  I was made to strip in a farmer’s field outside of town.  I was molested in a storage closet in an apartment basement.  I was abused in my own bedroom.  I was manipulated and coerced time and time again.  When I said I didn’t like it I was told that I was a liar and that I was the one who wanted it.  In a pitch black basement I screamed and nobody heard me as I was raped–for the first time.  My innocence was stolen.  In addition I was threatened and  was so frightened I knew that I could never tell anyone what had happened to me.  It is only now that I have the strength to share it.

     Throughout my life I have had dreams, flashbacks, and issues that relate back to what happened to me as a child.  Two years ago I wrote a play about these horrific childhood experiences and as I was writing it a sudden terror came to me that if he found out what I was doing I would be killed before I could finish it.  I was panic-stricken.  Forty years later the terror was still palpable.  These are the kinds of things survivors live with every day.

     To ask victims and survivors of childhood sex abuse to process everything they need to process before they are 35 years old is an unfair burden.  Some can, but most cannot.  This arbitrary limit needs to be removed.  I was 35 years old 20 years ago and it has only been in the last few years that I have been able to deal with and speak openly about what happened to me.  In fact, just writing this testimony brought up long-buried emotions and brought tears to my eyes.  The processing of these emotions is an unfolding that never ends. It is not done at any age.  There can be no statute of limitations on recovery.  I plead with you, for the wounded child within all of us, that you pass this bill, and I hope that you will not ignore this plea the way the way my pleas were ignored when I was a child.

Link to a video of the first production of my play, Invisible Boy, about surviving child sexual abuse.  Trigger Warning:  parts of the play are difficult to watch, although it is ultimately a hopeful and positive play.  Please take care of yourself.  http://vimeo.com/17470426

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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