Bill Allowing Lawsuits for Long-Ago Child Abuse All but Dead

By Brendan Farrington
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel [Tallahassee FL]
April 10, 2003

TALLAHASSEE A bill that would have allowed people raped as children to sue their abusers is all but dead after a House committee refused to take a vote Wednesday on the measure opposed by insurance companies and churches.

The bill would have waived the statute of limitations on filing lawsuits for one year so adults who repressed their memories of being raped as children could sue their abusers.

Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, successfully moved to set the bill aside, essentially killing it in the House.

"It's dead," admitted bill sponsor Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach.

Insurance companies and churches opposed the bill for fear of the cost of lawsuits. California and Connecticut have lifted their statutes of limitations on civil lawsuits against child rapists. Gannon said 225 claims were filed in California in four months and about 600 are expected.

Several abuse victims spoke in favor of the bill (HB 1321), giving dramatic testimony about their experiences.

Chris McCafferty of St. Petersburg said he was taught to respect priests as representatives of God and as a child felt he had to do whatever a priest told him.

"I was molested physically, mentally and emotionally by a predator who told me, `God said the body is beautiful so don't be afraid for anyone to touch it,'" McCafferty said. "I repressed everything that occurred during that time unknowingly trying to escape, using an 11-year-old mentality, by doing drugs, alcohol and eventually quitting school."

William Stander, representing the Alliance of American Insurers, spoke against the bill.

"No one is here to defend the perpetrators of sexual abuse, I suspect most of us would be more than happy if we took steps to make sure those people were put away and not able to do the harm they've committed to those people," Stander said.

But he said the bill would hurt organizations -- churches, day care centers and even homeowners -- who may be sued along with the abusers.

After the meeting, Gannon angrily accused Murman of "playing games" by maneuvering to keep legislators from voting on the bill.

"She doesn't want to offend her religious institution, that's the bottom line here. She's protecting the Catholic Church," said Gannon, who is also Catholic.

Murman later responded,"No one's stood up more for victims of abuse than I have. We have to make tough decisions about all these issues and we can't do it without having all the information."

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