Bills aim to give childhood sexual assault survivors more time to seek justice

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A trio of bills meant to give victims of child sexual abuse more time to seek justice heard gut-wrenching testimony this morning from survivors, prosecutors, psychologists and more.

“My dentist was a prolific pedophile,” Jeffrey Dunford said.

Dunford recounts horrific memories of sexual abuse from his childhood dentist in Fargo.

“This particular office manager suggested she had witnessed 400 boys abused in her tenure at the dental office, so I was just one of that section,” Dunford said.

He wasn’t the only one to share his experience.

“I was sexually abused by a priest at Selfridge when I was about 10. Five other boys told me they were also abused by the same priest,” Ted Becker said.

Memories of abuse from priests, parents and other trusted figures filled the hearing room.

“I had one child victim who, her perpetrator had showed her pictures of his wife and his kids and at 7 years old she said, ‘I was worried he would lose his wife and kids and wouldn’t get to see them again.’ That was in the mind of a 7-year-old child,” Assistant Attorney General Britta Demello Rice said.

The traumatic testimony had a common thread among victims: delayed disclosure — meaning, often they won’t tell anyone about the abuse until decades later after the statute of limitations has passed.

That means they can no longer seek justice through the law. But three new bills aim to address that issue.

“These bills are an effort to recognize what victims of child abuse have gone through. This is an effort to say that we care, we know what you went through, and we’re trying to step up as a state to come behind you and help you,” bill sponsor and West Fargo Democratic Rep. Austen Schauer said.

The first would open a two-year window for anyone abused to bring a civil lawsuit forward — even if the ten-year statute of limitations currently in place, has passed. The second would clarify language about when victims “should have known” to report. The third would extend the statute of limitations on the criminal side from three to ten years to give prosecutors more time to pursue a case.

Supporters of the bills say they give survivors an opportunity to get justice, or even just feel like they can speak out and seek help.

“Why should sexual predators be protected by the passage of time but victims suffer in perpetuity?” said Child USA Advocate Kathryn Robb.

The committee did not yet vote on the bill. The Attorney General’s office said on Wednesday they are closely watching all three of these bills and submitted testimony supporting the third one. This comes after the AG released a report last month that revealed at least two Catholic priests who were sexually abusing children are alive today and could have been criminally charged if not for the statute of limitations.

Anyone with information about Catholic abuse in North Dakota can confidentially report that at 1-800-472-2185.

To report other instances of child abuse or neglect, head here.

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