TOPEKA, Kan. — Four brave survivors told their stories at the Kansas statehouse on Thursday, urging lawmakers to pass bills in both the Senate and the House that would remove the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse to seek justice.
For survivors, a bill like this means agency; it means justice. They're hoping this will finally be the year lawmakers follow through.
Right now, a victim has until 21 to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser, which many say is just not enough time given the impact of the abuse.
"You have to front the money to even pursue something like this; you have to know how to find an attorney, how to hire an attorney to actually get something through," said Kim Bergman, a sexual abuse survivor. "There's just so many barriers on something that shouldn't have a barrier."
Bergman and Tess Ramirez, who the KSHB 41 I-Team profiled in a Safe Sport piece, spoke about how they were abused by the same person, David Byrd.
Bergman had no recourse because the statute of limitations had run out on her case, however, Ramirez was able to get her day in court.
Lesa Patterson-Kinsey and Jo Cheray recounted their experiences of horrific abuse at the hands of their own father and grandfather.
"Sexual abuse survivors deserve justice," Cheray said. "Hear the SOL bill, hear us."
Kansas Sen. Cindy Holscher (D) and Rep. Mike Schreiber (R) are filing bills that would do away with the filing deadline of 21 years-old. For civil lawsuits, people victimized in 1984 and on could sue. For criminal cases, the statute of limitations would be dropped from here on out.
Earl McIntosh was 10 when he was abused by a high school-aged male who lived down the street from him in Iola, Kansas.
He says he "buried it deep" and didn't start talking about his abuse until he was 36, which is similar for a lot of victims.
"I would like to encourage anybody to come forward, no matter what the stakes are because it's too much to live with," McIntosh said.
McIntosh and Patterson-Kinsey wouldn't be able to sue because their abuse happened prior to 1984, but McIntosh said he just wants to help someone else — possibly other people who were abused by the same person he was.
"We want to help with whatever's on the table, and the 1984, that's going to help a lot of people," McIntosh said. "That's what I'm going to stick with so I'm okay with that, that'd make me feel good."
Due to legal reasons, Holscher said they're stuck with the 1984 cut-off, but they'll try to work around it.
We've recently heard amplified calls for change with a KBI report revealing Kansas Catholic clergy members abused hundreds of kids over the last 50 years. It added more fuel to Holscher's fire.
"The news of the report coming out Friday, it enlarged the scope, it helped us better understand exactly what we're dealing with," Holscher said. "I do feel like there's more pressure or more interest in moving this forward now."
When asked why legislation like this hasn't passed before, Holscher said many lawmakers dismissed it as though there were just "a few" coaches and priests. Others would still say that victims should immediately report it.
Victims know it's not that simple. Child victims feel immense guilt and internalize the trauma they endured. Many aren't believed.
"When victims see that other people come forward and they're able to be successful and treated with respect, it makes them more likely to be willing to come forward themselves," Bergman said. "The whole goal of this is to protect kids."
Holscher said she doesn't anticipate being flooded with cases and lawsuits after their bills pass, but "what it does is it restores agency, it gives validation to people saying they've been abused. It allows the survivor to have, potentially, a choice."