COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Demonstrators huddled outside the Ohio Statehouse Wednesday to protest what they called lawmakers’ prioritization of profit over the needs of sexual violence survivors.
Armed with signs adorned with “Action for Survivors,” about 40 people gathered to share personal stories of abuse and advocate for two bills pending before Ohio lawmakers – one removing the statute of limitations and a second that would eliminate caps on monetary damages a survivor can recover in a civil suit, according to the bills’ sponsors, Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) and House Minority Whip Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park).
“Our legislature should be ashamed that it has not taken the action that is necessary to ensure that our children, our survivors have full access to the justice that they deserve,” Boggs said.
Just blocks away, the Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving a child rape victim who was drugged and raped from 2004 to 2005 in a Cleveland neighborhood, according to Cuyahoga County court records.
A jury determined that the victim was entitled to $134 million in damages for the pain and suffering she endured, but a judge later slashed the settlement award to $250,000 – citing a 2005 Ohio tort reform law that capped the amount plaintiffs can receive for “non-economic” damages, court records state.
“Everything that is entitled to her – they are denying the fact of being able to provide her with any type of restitution financially for the pain and suffering of her victimization,” Rosa Beltre, president and CEO of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said.
Boggs said she is trying to change the 2005 tort reform bill that she argues has shielded perpetrators of sexual violence from accountability.
Since 2017, the representative said she has introduced House Bill 199 to eliminate any and all limitations on the amount of money a rape survivor is entitled to receive.
“I don’t know any Ohioan who believes that a child, especially if it’s their child, who is a survivor of sexual violence, that they should be limited in any way when they’re seeking justice through the court systems,” Boggs said.
A second bill introduced by Miranda seeks to repeal the current law barring the prosecution of a perpetrator if 25 years have passed since the act of sexual violence, according to House Bill 266’s text.
For civil lawsuits pertaining, HB 266 would extend the window in which survivors of childhood sexual abuse can sue their abusers, allowing them cause for civil action until they’re 55 years old – a significant extension from the current 12-year period in which survivors can file suit.
The bill also grants survivors of childhood sexual abuse older than the age of 55 a three-year window upon the discovery of their abuse to file suit, according to the bill’s text.
“On the most basic level, as a mom and as a woman, Ohio should have no expiration date on when you can seek justice, so we can always be on the side of survivors, not on the side of sexual predators,” Miranda said.
Chris Graham, a survivor of priest sexual abuse who attended Wednesday’s protest, said it wasn’t until he attended therapy decades after his assaults that he realized he had been abused as a child.
After coming out as a survivor at the age of 38, Graham said he was eight years too late, under current Ohio law, to file a civil lawsuit to recover monetary damages for what he says he endured while serving as an altar boy at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Powell.
And now that his perpetrator is dead, Graham said there’s no opportunity for him to file criminal charges.
“When there’s a statute of limitations, it puts friction on that process,” Graham said. “It prevents people from coming forward because there’s – they know they’re going to be met with rejection, they know they’re going to be met with shame.”
Graham said the average age for a victim or survivor to come forward is 52 years old – and urged the Ohio General Assembly to reform the statute of limitations to allow at least half the survivors of sexual violence to receive a chance at justice.
“You hear a lot of talk from the opposition here, ‘It’s all about money for survivors’ – it’s not,” Graham said. “There is no such thing as justice for a survivor, but there is prevention. And we can get on that, we can pass laws that make it scary for pedophiles and rapists to do their thing in Ohio.”