An advocate holds up a photo of himself in childhood during a news conference at the Ohio Statehouse. Photo by: Morgan Trau, WEWS.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Child sexual abuse survivors begged Ohio lawmakers last week to eliminate the statute of limitations, but no legislators attended their press conference.
Advocacy group Ohioans for Child Protection say many of them never get justice, adding that Ohio’s statute of limitations actually helps prevent their abusers from being held accountable.
From the age of eight to 10, Paul Neyer was repeatedly sexually abused by his Cincinnati music minister. Thirty-two years later, he began to take his life back.
“It was just unreal, the amount of freedom that came from just saying ‘I was raped,'” Neyer said.
Neyer’s testimony helped convict Geoff Drew, who became a priest, of nine counts of rape, to which the pastor pleaded guilty. Neyer was able to help put him behind bars because he was inside Ohio’s statute of limitations.
The average age a child survivor comes forward is 52, according to Child USA. Criminal charges must be brought before the victim turns 43, and civil cases before 30. Neyer was 41.
“[The prosecutor] said it was only an act of God that I was able to get in there,” Neyer added. “[Is God] really protecting in a place where this happened to me?”
Not every victim gets the chance to see their abuser sentenced.
“I was basically robbed from that from Ohio State,” Stephen Snyder-Hill said.
Snyder-Hill is one of the survivors who allege they were groped, fondled, drugged or raped by Dr. Richard Strauss.
He was one of the first victims to come forward, he said, reporting it to the school the following day. School staff told him he must have been “confused.”
But because he was a legal adult during the assault, he had two years for a civil lawsuit.
At the beginning of 2021, Democrats introduced House Bill 266, which would eliminate the statute of limitations, but it hasn’t had one hearing. Other bills around child sex abuse prevention bills have stalled.
“It’s been five years, that behind closed doors, this university has been fighting us,” the survivor said. “What they do [now] is exactly the same thing that they did back then when they protected Strauss.”
This isn’t a Democrat vs. Republican issue, the advocates said. This needs to be bipartisan.
OCJ/WEWS reached out to the Statehouse leaders and religious-based lobbying groups the survivors addressed, but no one responded last Thursday. No lawmakers attended the event, either.
OSU, however, did give a statement, denying fighting survivors.
“We offer our deepest regrets and apologies to all who experienced Strauss’ abuse,” said Ben Johnson, OSU spokesperson. “Ohio State has reached settlement agreements with more than half the plaintiffs – 296 survivors – for more than $60 million, and all male students who filed lawsuits have been offered the opportunity to settle.”
Johnson continued to add that OSU has protocols in place and no tolerance for sexual misconduct.
On Friday, after this story was initially published, state Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican and majority floor leader responded, saying that there are “better bills that address the same subject in a more balanced manner.”
The bills he prefers are H.B. 689 and 709.
H.B. 689 is his own bill he introduced in May 2022, which has bipartisan support.
HB 689 doubles the statute of limitations within which a mandatory reporter of child abuse may be prosecuted for failing to make the required report. It would repeal current law and impose a civil penalty, rather than a criminal penalty, on a person who fails to register with the childhood sexual abuse civil registry. It would also eliminate the residence restriction on the individual. It would also simplify the process for seeking a declaratory judgment that an alleged abuser committed child abuse and warrants their placement on the sex abuse registry.
“That provision gives these victims what they originally said they wanted—a way to ensure that these offenders could never be around children again—but it does not open the floodgates to lawsuits seeking money damages decades after the alleged abuse occurred,” Seitz said.
He also co-introduced H.B. 709, a totally bipartisan bill referred to as the Scout’s Honor Law. It would abolish the civil statute of limitations for damages for victims of child sex abuse in the event of bankruptcy settlements, such as what happened with the Boy Scouts of America. This would allow Ohio claimants to receive the maximum possible payment from the trust. Typically, they would only get 30-45%, according to sponsor state Rep. Jessica E. Miranda (D-Forest Park).
“The other reason why the bills that the survivors have asked about have not passed is that we already have a criminal statute of limitations for rape,” Seitz added.
This allows prosecutions within 25 years of the rape or longer depending on if the rape occurred when the survivor was a child or if DNA evidence is found.
The only crime in Ohio without limitations is murder, and in Ohio and Seitz said that many “believe that statutes of limitation serve multiple valid purposes and do not wish to extend it further.”
“The bills also suffer from a failure to distinguish between claims for damages against the actual perpetrator of the abuse and claims against the employer of that perpetrator, whose only culpability rests on a theory of negligence in failing to oversee the perpetrator’s behavior,” the Republican added. “The concept of limitless liability for mere acts of negligence is one that is untenable.”
Despite the money, the settlements and the convictions, the scars remain.
“Do I ever feel like I fully made it to my potential? Absolutely not,” Neyer said. “Am I clawing my way up to that potential? Every day.”
Lawmakers credit OCJ/WEWS reporting for one of the child sex abuse prevention bills, Erin’s Law, moving forward. Advocates hope it will be passed after the November election.
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