After a couple of failed attempts in recent years, Georgia lawmakers are again advancing legislation to allow adults who were victims of sexual abuse more time to sue organizations that employed their abuser.
This latest version of the Hidden Predator Act passed the House late last week and its fate is now in the state Senate. Its author, Warner Robins Republican Heath Clark, said the bill raises the age a victim can bring a civil suit for child sexual abuse from 23 to 38 years and expands the amount of time a victim can bring suit from two years after becoming aware of the abuse to four years.
If the bill becomes law, it would open a one-year window for victims whose statute of limitation has run out to file suit against a person who committed abuse or an entity that had an obligation to report the abuse but knowingly allowed it to continue or attempted to conceal it.
“My intent with this legislation is to pass something that would allow justice to be served, that had teeth in it, but not causing any unintended consequences to people who weren’t necessarily at fault,” Clark said at a last-minute Wednesday House Judiciary Committee meeting where the bill was discussed.
Georgia Catholic Conference Executive Director Frank Mulcahy said the Catholic Church wants to protect victims of child abuse, but looking back as far as this bill does is not reasonable. The Catholic Church objected to earlier attempts by Georgia lawmakers to create a similar law easing the statute of limitations in 2015 and 2018.
“You’re taking it back 30-some years,” Mulcahy said. “We don’t always have records going back that far. In our case, all the priests who have been accused – and you know, we have been willing to put the names out in the public, on the website, for every priest we know of who has committed child abuse in the state of Georgia. Other people don’t do that, but we’ve done that.
“All of the priests but maybe one or two are now dead, so we have no evidence to bring, and that becomes a problem for us,” he said.
The Catholic Church has faced numerous charges of child sexual abuse going back decades, as have the Boy Scouts of America, which has also lobbied against Georgia’s Hidden Predator bill.
Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Smyrna Democrat, said during last week’s floor debate that those groups may have corrected their histories of abuse, but the victims still deserve justice.
“Y’all, I was a Catholic school mom for 12 years, I’m a Girl Scout leader, I’ve been on Boy Scout campouts, I volunteered at vacation Bible school at my Catholic church, I have done four different mandated reporter trainings over the years,” she said. “I will be the first person to tell you that these groups have made changes, but it is irrefutable that this abuse happened, it is irrefutable that it was covered up and it is irrefutable that we need to help these adults that were abused as children to find justice, and this bill will help us do this.”