By Angela Smith, HEAL National Coordinator/Co-Founder
As a victim of child abuse, sodomy, sexual abuse, and institutionalized abuse, I have pursued justice. When sodomized at age 6, the crime was reported. The perpetrator was 17 and his file was sealed. That perpetrator went on to become a police officer in Washington State. As a teen, I reported abuse to my school and they notified social services who sent a social worker to my home. The social worker advised that she could place me in foster care. I knew a girl in foster care at my school who told me she had been sexually abused at most of her placements, including her current placement. So, I felt foster care wasn't the best option. I didn't think to report it to the police as the authority figures in my life thought social services was the right agency to contact. But, I had the right to do so. To escape the abuse at home I attempted suicide and voluntarily received brief inpatient care at a psychiatric hospital. They knew I was being abused and did not advise I call the police to report the crimes nor did they report it as mandated reporters. Instead, they suggested I go to a boarding school in Utah where I was abused and had no way to contact authorities at that point as my communications were restricted and monitored. But, I was able to write home and extended family who rescued me from Utah after a few months.
Being relieved to be free from Provo Canyon School and suffering compounded trauma from that experience, my abusers at home and the professionals they chose recommended I not pursue legal action for my own well-being because testifying may trigger my trauma. Being a teen, I didn't feel I had the support needed to pursue justice further. But, the reality is that the individuals who suggested I not pursue justice were most likely in the eyes of the law to be co-conspirators or co-defendants to cover up child abuse, sexual abuse, and false imprisonment/kidnapping by fraud. The hospital I was at has changed ownership along with the program in Utah, both are now owned by the same parent company which has been in trouble with the Department of Justice for fraud. So, maybe we need a stiffer penalty than fines for fraud. That would be worthwhile legislation.
The issue we as victims of childhood abuses have is that sometimes trauma makes us overlook the obvious or suggestions that we write congress rather than pursue available remedies at law seem like a good idea. If something is already a crime or even tort, then, remedies exist such as filing criminal complaints in the proper jurisdiction and regarding specific crime(s), filing consumer complaints with your home state's attorney general (which you can do at http://www.heal-online.org/report.htm by clicking on appropriate link on that page), and filing a civil suit before any statute of limitations has expired on your cause(s) of action. Failing to do this in a timely fashion is a forfeiture of your right to justice in the eyes of the law and reasonably so in many cases. So, while trauma is very upsetting and being a victim of crime is very traumatizing, the remedies remain filing criminal complaints, consumer complaints, and/or filing a lawsuit within the statute of limitations. Regulation doesn't work and just allows for pretense and cover up of crime in most cases. So, everyone should encourage victims of crime, regardless of age or infirmity, to report crime to the authorities as soon as humanly possible. And, if you choose not to do so for any reason, the public is likely to ask why you didn't and whether you knew that was an option leading to some embarrassment and/or defensive response about your personal circumstances and why it didn't happen in your case. But, that's not a basis for a movement. This is why HEAL will likely be shifting our priorities in 2019 and ask individual survivors to support each other who need emotional support but are not interested in pursuing justice or can no longer do so as a result of the statute of limitations on their cause(s) of action.