OLYMPIA – Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin was among victims of child sexual abuse urging the Legislature Wednesday to drop the statute of limitations that they say shields pedophiles from justice.
“It took me years to be able to call what happened to me between age 10 and 18 rape,” said McLaughlin, who told members of the House Public Safety Committee about years of sexual abuse by her father. “You shouldn’t lose the ability to bring about justice just because some years have elapsed.”
Michael Ross of Spokane, the founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said some victims of child sexual abuse don’t come to grips with what happened to them until they are in their 40s or 50s. Current law protects pedophiles by requiring a victim of a child rape to report before turning 29, said Ross, who told the committee he was abused by a Catholic priest in his teens but repressed that memory until he was 47.
McLaughlin and Ross were among supporters of House Bill 1657, a proposal by Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, to lift the statute of limitations for any rape of a minor by an adult. In a sometimes emotional hearing, they and other victims recounted their histories of sexual abuse that they acknowledge the bill can’t help because the law can’t be made retroactive.
It would, however, tell pedophiles from that point on “they could never escape justice,” said Virginia Graham of Spokane, who said she was sexually abused starting at age 10 and her father threatened to kill her if she reported him.
But Lonnie Johns-Brown of the Washington Coalition on Sexual Assault said she was ambivalent about the proposal because it might not have much effect. Rape convictions are difficult even when cases are prosecuted quickly and have hard evidence, she said.
McLaughlin, who grew up in southern Idaho, said after the hearing it was the first time she had talked about being sexually abused in such a public setting. She sometimes speaks at victim support groups or other small gatherings. She agreed to testify for the bill because “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Her religious faith has allowed her to move on, she said, but the fact that her father was never held accountable still weighs heavily on her family.