Advocates for the sexually abused say it takes years, often decades, for people to overcome the shame they feel and to summon the strength to come forward and talk about what happened to them when they were children.
By that time, it’s often too late. Minnesota’s civil statutes require child sex-abuse lawsuits to be filed before the victim turns 24.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon and Sen. Ron Latz, both DFLers from St. Louis Park, would amend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual-abuse victims to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators.
Opponents of the bill, such as the Minnesota Religious Council, the Minnesota Child Care Association and the Minnesota School Boards Association, say the bill puts their organizations at financial risk. Lawsuits could drain them of funds and resources to operate their core missions. They also argue it leaves their organizations unfairly vulnerable for past cases in which a pedophile was unknowingly hired.
While we understand the opposition’s position, we strongly believe the individual’s right to seek justice is the overriding issue.
Simon’s bill offers a compromise by creating a three-year window during which someone could pursue past claims. After the three-year period, no perpetrator or institution would be civilly liable for past abuse; however, any future cases of new abuse would have no statute of limitations.
Latz’s bill is more straightforward, making no distinction between past and future abuse and allowing for civil suits to be filed at any time.
Child molestation cases involving Penn State University and the Catholic Church have dominated the headlines in recent years, while closer to home, disturbing allegations have emerged at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, which prompted the introduction of the Minnesota Child Victims Act.
Former drama teacher Lynn Seibel, who taught at the school from 1992 to 2003, faces 14 counts of criminal sexual conduct and three other counts related to his alleged actions while teaching at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. The allegations against Seibel, whose acting credits include a 2012 appearance on “The Big Bang Theory” (portraying a senile professor who gets naked at inappropriate times), include allegations by some students that Seibel touched them inappropriately.
After the Seibel case became public, a former Shattuck-St. Mary’s student accused another teacher, Joe Machlitt, of sexually abusing him in 1980. Joel Juers, now 47, said he never told anyone about the alleged abuse until 1995, when he was in his late 20s.
Machlitt admitted to the abuse but charges were dismissed earlier this month because Minnesota law doesn’t allow prosecution of cases dating back that far. Juers, who says he has alcoholism and intimacy issues stemming from the abuse, says he feels victimized again but is uncertain whether he will file a civil suit if the Minnesota Child Victims Act passes.
“Some of the things I’m weighing are forgiveness and grace,” he said. “Do I forgive or seek justice? Will I suffer by making somebody else suffer?”
We favor giving Juers and other child sex-abuse victims the choice between forgiveness and seeking justice. A lifetime of silence is too much of a burden for anyone to carry.