COLUMBUS, OhioSuspect reportedly messing with AC breakers (WCMH) – Weeks after a judge threw out hundreds of cases claiming sexual abuse at the hands of a former Ohio State University doctor, a pair of bills in the state legislature are proposing changes.
Thursday morning, democratic representatives were flanked by sexual abuse survivors and advocates as they discussed House Bill 266 and 199.
“We’ve found that Ohio has a lot of holes in the law when it comes to protecting our children. We had no idea,” said parent Teresa Dinwiddie-Herrmann.
Survivor Chris Graham added, “We have an opportunity to make Ohio a dangerous place to live if you are a pedophile or a rapist.”
When Graham was a teenager, he suffered sexual abuse by a priest. He suppressed the memories until decades later.
“It takes a long time to come forward because many victims like me have no idea how to understand what happened to them,” he said.
Depending on circumstances, current Ohio law gives victims up to 25 years to file criminal cases. Adults have up to 2 years to bring a civil lawsuit.
HB 266 would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for rape and extend the period of limitations for civil action. HB 199 would remove the cap on damages for certain violent crimes, including rape. The bills would also remove an exception for victims raped by their spouses, extend the window victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers up to age 55, and create a 3-year window for survivors over age 55.
“Why do we continue to accept that the people who are not supportive of this legislation are actually being helpful to the perpetrators?” said State Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron), a bill sponsor.
In September, a judge blamed the inaction of lawmakers when he dismissed cases by former students against the Ohio State University. The complaints, dating from 1979-1998, alleged former university doctor Richard Strauss sexually abused hundreds of student athletes. Strauss left the university in 1998. He died by suicide in 2005.
Judge Michael H. Watson announced the dismissal was because the two-year statute of limitations expired. In his ruling, the judge wrote “At all times since the filing of these cases, the Ohio legislature had the power, but not the will, to change the statute of limitations for these Plaintiffs.”
Sponsors of the latest legislation believe several similar bills failed over the years because some lawmakers worried about a ‘slippery slope’ effect.
“I believe our colleagues do have a fear that this will open the floodgates,” said Rep. Galonski.
Some survivors hope failed high profile cases, like those against former Dr. Strauss, will illuminate what they call ‘holes’ in the legal system and pressure lawmakers to make improvements.
“As more victims come forward and are empowered by seeing other victims come forward, it’s going to be nonstop. And as that happens, I don’t think our legislature can turn a blind eye to that,” said Graham.