On the Child Victims Act

Chris

Wisconsin State Representative Chris Taylor. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

 

This morning, Wisconsin State Representatives Chris Taylor and Melissa Sargent and State Senator Lena Taylor introduced two bills at a press conference at the State Capitol. The first was the Child Victims Act, which eliminates the statute of limitations on civil suits by victims of child sexual assault. The second eliminates a loophole that makes it possible for clergy, who are supposed to be mandatory reporters. to not report child sex abuse when they find out about it.

Representative Taylor contacted me last week and asked if I would speak at the press conference. I was honored to be asked. The following is what I said this morning:

To summarize in a couple minutes why the Child Victims Act 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 its after-effects.

I stand before you as an adult survivor who spent decades in denial, hiding behind drugs and alcohol, thinking that suicide was the only way to escape the horrible things that happened. I couldn’t escape. The reality was always with me.

The abuse started when I was ten and continued for almost eight years. My innocence was stolen, my trust in others was gone. I was threatened and was so frightened I knew that I could never tell anyone what had happened to me. It took me years to build the strength to share my story.

Throughout my life I have had dreams, flashbacks, and issues that relate back to my childhood. Several years ago I wrote a play about those 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 after the abuse ended the terror was still palpable. These are the kinds of things survivors live with every day.

To ask survivors of childhood sex abuse to process everything they need to process before they are 35 years old is an unfair burden. Most cannot. This arbitrary limit needs to be removed. It has only been in the last decade that I’ve been able to deal with and speak openly about what happened to me. Two-thirds of victims do not say anything until well into adulthood. For male survivors it’s an average age of 52 years old. The processing of these emotions is an unfolding that never ends. It is not done at any age. There is no statute of limitations on recovery and the legislature needs to recognize that.

Ending certain exemptions for clergy as mandatory reporters is equally important. One out of three children disclose the abuse, which is a scary and dangerous prospect for them to do. A child who tells is going to tell someone they feel they can trust. They are also seeking help. When a child isn’t heard, or doesn’t think they were heard because nothing changes, they will likely join those victims who keep their dark secret for years. Exemptions for anyone in the helping professions makes it likely the child will not try again and even more likely that the abuse will continue. We cannot do this to our children.

As a survivor I applaud Representative and Senator Taylor and Representative Sargent for introducing these bills. I thank them for their concern and compassion. I urge citizens to contact their representatives to encourage them to get behind these important bills. I ask all the legislators to set politics aside and get these bills to the Governor’s desk. If there were ever a pair of bills that deserve bipartisan support, it is these.

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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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