The Iowa House has given final approval to a bill that immediately removes the time limit for filing criminal charges against people accused of sexually abusing a child.
During House debate today, Representative Cherielynn Westrich of Ottumwa spoke publicly for the first time about the abuse she suffered as a child.
“It was only as an adult that I was finally able to come to terms and to talk openly about this. I even had to write down my statement because it’s emotional and it’s hard to face,” Westrick said. “…I think we need to support those victims who find the courage to speak out, who find the courage to come forward no matter how long it takes them.”
Westrich said this law change gives victims a chance to get justice.
“As a small child, I was sexually abused by a babysitter. It was something that I felt a lot of shame for. I was very confused. I was afraid to speak out, but I told my parents, but I wasn’t believed — at that time,” Westrich said. “They’ve since come back and apologized. My mother has cried many nights that she didn’t believe me.”
As a teenager, Westrich was part of a group who were supporting a friend who had been sexually abused and Westrich said that’s when memories of her own abuse returned. Her siblings also remembered being the babysitter locking them out of the house so he could be alone with her. Westrich asked her colleagues to think about all the victims of child sex abuse as she spoke on the House floor today.
“One in five girls and one in 20 little boys are sexually abused,” she said. “How many perpetrators is that, that get away with it? That’s a lot of perpetrators. That’s a lot of children that are being hurt.”
The legislator who spoke next thanked Westrich for having the courage to tell her story in a public forum and then expressed the hope it would inspire other victims to come forward and press charges.
Under current state law, child sex abuse victims must contact authorities before their 33rd birthday to file criminal charges or sue their abuser. The bill only deals with the statute of limitations for criminal charges. While the bill passed on an 84-2 vote, critics argued it’s time to lift the time limit on civil lawsuits as well, so victims can sue institutions that knew about child sex abusers, but did not act to prevent them from targeting other children.