Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, speaks at a press conference on domestic violence bills at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.

The recent news story about a woman, who alleges she was sexually assaulted many years ago but is unable to pursue justice in the criminal system because of the significant time that has passed, has moved me to speak out about statutory changes I spearheaded back in 2016 to help victims of childhood sexual abuse.

As a member of the Utah House of Representatives, I sponsored HB279 that allows victims of childhood sexual abuse the opportunity to seek civil redress against individual perpetrators even many years later. But time is running out. Victims of childhood sexual abuse who were over the age of 52 when the bill went into effect in May 2016 only have until May 2019 to file a civil action. Those who were younger than 52 on the effective date have no longer have any time limit.

Though apparently not a matter of childhood sexual abuse, news of the allegations against the former president of the Missionary Training Center for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by a young, female missionary at the time fits an all-too-familiar pattern, revealed by decades of experience and research.

The physical, emotional and spiritual damage caused by such predatory acts scars the development of young victims in ways that leave indescribable pain for the victim, their families and society at large. HB279 affords victims the opportunity to make the perpetrators bear the cost for their abhorrent abuse.

For years, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a child required the victim to bring a civil claim within four years of turning 18 years old.

However, the Utah Legislature has taken to heart over the years the insightful words of Maya Angelou, “We do the best we can with what we know, and when we know better, we do better.” In recent years, the Utah Legislature has been trying hard to “do better” for victims of sexual abuse

In 2008, the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children was eliminated.

In 2015, Utah Legislature passed HB277, which I sponsored, eliminating the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children from the effective date of the bill. HB277 did not apply to victims who were already older than 22 years of age and whose time to bring civil claims had already lapsed.

After the passage of HB277, I received a nearly weekly flood of calls from victims of childhood sexual abuse asking whether the law allowed them to sue their abusers. When asked if they were older than 22 on the effective date, the majority responded that they were much older, having suffered with the pain and shame and fear of disclosing their abuse for decades.

As a result, in 2016, I worked with my colleagues in the legislature to pass HB279, thereby restoring the rights of victims to bring civil claims against those who had sexually victimized them as children. Consequently, a number of victims have been able to file or settle lawsuits against those who abused them and who otherwise would have faced no consequences.

Every week seems to bring a new revelation of someone in a position of trust sexually abusing a child or a subordinate. Studies indicate that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused by the time they turn 18. The only way to stop this epidemic is to foster an environment where victims feel safe to disclose the dark and intimidating abuse that has been waged against them and afford them the opportunity to seek redress for the heinous damage done.

Comment on this story

We cannot continue to ignore or minimize this darkness in our society. Pretending it doesn’t exist will not make it go away. I encourage every individual in a position of leadership in government, education, business, or charitable or church organizations to join together in working to foster an environment of support, trust and belief for vulnerable and often troubled victims of sexual abuse.

As long as I continue in the legislature, I will remain committed to supporting legislative efforts to protect and afford the opportunity for redress and healing for all victims of sexual abuse.