UTAH STATE CAPITOL – Childhood sex abuse survivors are calling out the Utah Supreme Court for overturning a law that makes it easier for victims to sue their attackers. They believe the ruling will prevent more victims from coming forward.
In 2016, Utah lawmakers made major changes in how childhood abuse victims could sue the people who preyed upon them. Lawmakers say, previously, victims only had four years after their 18th birthday to bring a civil complaint against their abuser. The 2016 law made it possible for victims to have a window of 35 years to file a complaint. However, the court tossed out that law.
Terry Mitchell sued a federal judge, Richard Roberts, claiming he raped her in 1981 when she was the star witness in a double homicide. Roberts’ attorneys argued the allegation was too old. Mitchell’s suit was unsuccessful but says she refuses to stay silent.
“My hope was that by coming forward I would help other victims to feel safe to come forward, but, clearly, it isn’t safe,” she says.
Other sex abuse survivors say they’ve been dealing with the trauma from their abuse their entire lives. Laura vonGermecen says she feels she was silenced when she was a child, and now that she better understands what happened, she feels silenced again.
“We should be allowing adults to go through their healing processes and seek justice,” she says.
She says she has never really been able to maintain a healthy relationship with anyone, adding that she doesn’t feel worthy of anyone’s love. Other survivors like Alissa Page are going through similar problems. She says she turned to alcohol and promiscuity to deal with the pain she was feeling. However, at the age of 38, something else triggered her trauma.
Page says, “I don’t know what happened, but, I was unable to have any intimate relationships for almost two years, now. I’m unable to date. I’m unable to shower comfortably or change comfortably.”
Advocates say four years after someone’s 18th birthday isn’t nearly enough time for a victim to feel confident enough to come forward and face their attacker. Representative Angela Romero says most victims are preyed upon by someone they know and trust.
“Because of that, it’s a lot harder to share what happened to them,” Romero says.
Romero says she’s looking for a way to restore the 2016 law to what it once was. That may mean a voter referendum or a new constitutional amendment.