Local survivors of child sex abuse vow to continue their fight to remove statutory limitations on criminal prosecution of Oregon offenders despite a recent setback in Salem.
The advocates want to remove the prosecutorial time clock from five Measure 11 sex crimes — incest, first-degree rape, first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree unlawful penetration and first-degree sodomy — provided the victim was younger than 18 and the perpetrator was older than 18 at the time of the alleged crimes.
Efforts to add the changes to House Bill 3284 were tabled last week after the nine-member House Judiciary Committee failed to muster five affirmative votes, said Randy Ellison, an Ashland resident, adult survivor of child sexual abuse and board president of Oregon Advocates and Survivors in Service.
"(Last) week the Oregon state Legislature chose to place perpetrators over the safety of our children," Ellison said. "It is truly a dark day in Oregon, but it's not the last day."
Oregon law allows a perpetrator be prosecuted for abuse up to 12 years after the first reporting of an alleged incident to a responsible party such as the Department of Human Services, school officials or police, Ellison said.
"Or within 12 years after the victim reaches the age of maturity, which means they are locked out of the system at age 30," Ellison said, adding it can take decades for a victim to be able to disclose.
"It's so hard to disclose — the shame, the lack of support," Ellison said.
Members of the America Civil Liberties Union and the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association argued against the proposed changes.
"The best public policy promotes prompt reporting," said Gail Meyer, who testified on behalf of the defense lawyers organization.
Ellison, who joined other child sexual abuse survivors demonstrating on the Capitol steps last week, said the committee's inaction leaves Oregon children at risk.
"Perpetrators don't retire," Ellison said. "We're saving future generations of kids."
Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18. It is estimated that at least 39 million Americans are survivors of child sexual abuse.
"At least 20 percent of our children are being abused, are being molested, are being raped," Ellison said.
Ellison, 60, was 15 when a youth minister began sexually abusing him. For more than 40 years, Ellison remained silent about the abuse by a trusted leader in his community — a 40-year-old married man with children of his own, he said.
"He said it was my fault," Ellison said. "He said I should pray for him.
"One woman spoke about how she tried to disclose (her abuse) in grade school, in junior high and as a young adult," Ellison said. "At every stage she was not given support."
When the woman became an adult and found the strength to speak out against her abuser, the statute of limitations had run out, he said.
Taking away the statute of limitations on these Measure 11 sex crimes would put them on par with murder, attempted murder and other deadly crimes, which have no time limits on prosecution, Meyer said.
"The thing with a murder case is there is usually a dead body, and pretty clear evidence of foul play," she said.
In the case of a decades-old abuse allegation, there may be no evidence. Simply the word of an alleged victim, Meyer said.
Even if there was once a police report or other physical evidence recovered at the time of the initial alleged abuse, it may no longer be available, Meyer said.
"The more time goes by, the more things like that get destroyed," Meyer said.
Ellison said 33 states have eliminated statutes of limitations on these types of cases.