In a recent column about cowardice, I wrote about a father who beat his 2-year-old daughter so severely three years ago that she remained paralyzed, blind and brain-damaged until she died Sept. 5.
I prefer to write about cowardice’s honorable – and rare – opposite: courage.
I’ve been privileged to be the voice for several survivors of sexual abuse. Their stories, beyond shocking, expose the darkest corners of our nature and the slimy, cowardly predators who lurk there. They also reveal a courage we don’t often see.
I have learned that survivors must come forward according to their own schedules.
They might also decide not to speak out.
I’m still dismayed when people ask why a survivor took so long to talk about it, as if this is something inconsequential that happens on a Monday and on Tuesday you tell someone. The crime of sexual abuse is so colossal that most people who aren’t survivors can’t grasp its horrors.
I prefer to think that when people ask questions such as these, they are asking not out of insensitivity, though that happens often enough, but instead out of ignorance.
Tammy Troutman Miller is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and she has decided to tell her story.
Tammy, 44, of Sinking Spring said she was abused 30 years ago by someone she knows. He is still living.
“I felt a lot of guilt,” Tammy said in the office of her therapist, Dr. Alison Hill of Wyomissing.
Some family members supported Tammy’s decision to begin talking about her abuse, others didn’t.
She said she confronted her abuser, and he admitted to the abuse.
She said she forgave him.
The patterns in Tammy’s life are familiar to those who study sexual abuse of children. She used drugs and alcohol to dull the pain of her abuse. She was depressed and suicidal.
A year ago, Tammy decided to begin her emancipation from decades of silence and shame by telling her story in a video she posted on YouTube.
“You need to tell someone you trust and get help,” Tammy told me, echoing sentiments she expressed in her video.
The process of revealing one’s history of sexual abuse should lead logically to telling that story in a court of law. In Pennsylvania that is not possible because of laws that some say protect predators by insisting that survivors come to court according to a schedule that fails to account for the time needed for survivors to make the most important decision of their lives: to begin talking about their abuse.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Muhlenberg Township, who told his story of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in this column, has introduced a measure to extend the civil statute of limitations from 12 years past one’s 18th birthday to 32 years and provide a two-year window for survivors of sexual abuse to file their claims in civil court.
Tammy, who said she supports the legislation introduced by Rozzi and state Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, works with Justice4PAKids, a statewide advocacy group. On its website is this powerful comment: “There is no statute of limitations for murder in Pennsylvania – child sexual abuse should be treated the same.”
Why should the murder of a child’s innocence be different from the murder of a child?
John Fidler is a copy editor and writer at the Reading Eagle. Contact him at 610-371-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.