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LOWRY: Hidden predator law aids victims

In March 2015, the Georgia House of Representatives made it easier for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits when the legislature passed House Bill 17 with overwhelming support.

Georgia previously had a relatively short statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse claims. As a result, many victims were unable to bring charges against their abusers later in life. The law, which went into effect in July 2015, extends the window of time for child sex-abuse victims to file a lawsuit and seek damages.

The new law provides a two-year discovery rule, which allows a survivor of child sexual trauma to file suit from the date they discover a sexual assault, which can be important in cases of repressed memory.

This provision is designed to address the fact that many individuals repress these traumatic experiences until they are adults when therapy can bring these incidents to light. Now, these individuals can gain access to sealed criminal investigations in which they were the victim.

According to the Hidden Predator Law, individuals who have already missed both the statute of limitations and the new two-year provision can now act on a one-time retroactive window of opportunity to file a civil suit against the perpetrator. The window opened on July 1, 2015, and will close on July 1, 2017.

In addition, if the perpetrator was a volunteer or employee of an organization that owed a “duty of care” to the victim — or the abuser and victim were engaged in some activity over which such entity had control — the victim can be awarded damages against the organization when there is evidence of gross negligence or knowledge of the abuse.

Under the new law, a suit has been filed against a Georgia karate school owner who is accused of sexual abuse by seven former Taekwondo Junior Olympic medalists, who are now in their 30s.

The seven plaintiffs also are suing the Amateur Athletic Union for continuing to allow their alleged abuser to enter tournaments with children as recently as 2015 even though a Georgia district attorney found evidence of “multiple acts of sodomy, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation and sexual battery.”

Another case filed under this new Georgia law claims that a statehouse lobbyist abused a boy he worked with as a youth leader at a Toombs County church “hundreds of times over the course of several years.”

The plaintiff, who is now in his early 30s, said in the suit that he met the perpetrator through the church’s youth group while in the seventh grade. The defendant, who was a volunteer and later became a youth pastor, allegedly invited boys from the youth group to his home for sleepovers, showed them pornographic material and engaged in sexual acts involving minors.

Fortunately, Georgia’s new Hidden Predator Law makes it easier to seek retribution for individuals who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. Child predators, as well as the organizations that may have enabled or ignored their behavior, must be held accountable for their actions.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of childhood sexual trauma in Georgia, contact an attorney who specializes in abuse cases. By filing suit under the state’s Hidden Predator Law, you may be entitled to compensation and to seek justice through the state’s legal system.

 

Stephen G. Lowry is a partner with the law firm of Harris Penn Lowry LLP who has handled numerous abuse claims. He can be reached at steve@hpllegal.com or 912-651-9967.

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