It is perhaps a product of the times we live in that we are finally able to confront old demons in a public forum. Just a few years ago I would have been terrified to say out loud that I survived sexual abuse and molestation at a very young age. Recently, however, I made that revelation in front of my colleagues. I testified at a legislative hearing on a bill that will allow some victims of such abuse legal recourse to find some semblance of justice.
Surviving molestation does not come without cost. My life was changed instantly, terribly and dramatically when a trusted individual in authority decided to abuse a second-grader.
I have learned over the years that I am part of a painful sorority. Unfortunately, since the introduction of Senate Bill 131, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, I have learned that girls who were my age then still suffer from the effects of the abuse when we become women our age now. It is not unusual to hide the details from those closest to us, or suppress the memories to spare ourselves. The momentary sexual satisfaction of the abuser remains a lasting specter in the lives of the abused.
The stories are similar. They are unpleasant to repeat in polite company, yet they deserve to be told to set the record straight and to do everything possible to prevent them from being repeated.
I feel a great kinship to the 9-year-old gymnast who was repeatedly raped by a respected coach. Almost 40 years later she has a picture of the coach with her family. The parents are smiling. It is a good night for them. They are optimistic that their daughter is on her way to great successes. Her father never learned that the picture is horror story memorabilia. The tight grip the coach has on the little girl’s arm hints at an evil secret.
I have empathy for the young swimmer who was sexually abused by a ruthless swimming instructor. The objectification of a child in the worst way is unforgivable on a personal level and deserves the severest punishment a civilized society can muster. It is equally unforgivable that the coach was protected by his peers and maintained his position of authority for decades.
I also have great disdain for the Los Angeles cleric, who was trained as a social worker even before he became a priest, and as a leader of the church evaded responsibility for the abuse that took place under his watch. He whined that he had never been confronted with a sexual abuse situation before and was not educated to handle it.
Well, even as a second-grader I could have told him it was much more than a sin. It was a criminal act. Moral courage in this instance is not difficult to define, and the cleric missed doing the right thing by a million miles and thousands of children are scarred by his unconscionable decision to do nothing … nothing except transfer perpetrators from community to community.
SB 131 is only part of the solution. It is narrowly drawn. This legislation will allow victims who were over the age of 26 in the year 2003, but had not yet made the causal connection between the abuse they suffered and the physical and mental problems they continue to endure, to seek redress.
Even then it is not a slam-dunk. In the course of seeking redress, survivors must prove that the abuse actually did occur.
For me, in simple terms, this is an opportunity for those who are completely innocent to gain some form of justice against child molesters. SB 131 allows those who have suffered unfairly and egregiously, to say that those molesters will not get away scot-free.
I am astonished that the Catholic Church, the Swim Club of America and other groups are opposed to the legislation. These organizations plead poverty, yet they have hired the most expensive lobbying firms in California to protect their interests. I am sickened when I hear them say that paying damages to those who have suffered will interfere with them delivering the Gospel of the Lord or the fulfillment of service obligations to children.
I think of the little girl I was in the second grade. When I think of those who oppose SB 131, my reaction is fierce and immediate. If you do not vote for SB 131 then you are essentially protecting the grinning monsters who think nothing of stealing the innocence of a child.
Paula Treat is a Sacramento lobbyist who has volunteered her time and effort to pass Senate Bill 131.