‘I buried this terrifying experience’: Survivors of child sex crimes urge changes to Kansas law
TOPEKA — Earl McIntosh wants state lawmakers to look at a photo of himself as a young boy, to see him as an innocent child full of joy and potential, and to think about how his life forever changed when he was sexually assaulted.
Kansas law protects the man who assaulted McIntosh from facing consequences for his decades-old crime. The attacker now mentors young schoolchildren in Shawnee, McIntosh said.
McIntosh, a Topeka resident, joined a chorus of survivors who urged lawmakers to adopt legislation that removes a statute of limitations for criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits involving child sex crimes. After months of delay, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Thursday on Senate Bill 317.
When McIntosh was 10 and living in Iola, a neighbor who was in high school asked he would like to go fishing and exploring at his parents’ cabin. McIntosh said he didn’t even tell his family he was leaving. “I just jumped in the car and off we went,” he said.
At the cabin, the neighbor’s disposition changed quickly. He physically forced McIntosh to remove his clothing and molested him for hours.
“I didn’t even know what sex was,” McIntosh said. “I didn’t have a clue what he was doing to me. My innocence was robbed. He threatened to harm me if I told anyone, including my parents and my friends. So I buried this terrifying experience deep inside me.”
McIntosh said he developed a bad attitude, became distrustful of authority, took his emotions out on weak teachers and started drinking alcohol. Later, he had trust issues when he began dating.
His anxiety continued to build until he confided in his wife and parents at the age of 36. He didn’t seek professional counseling until his early 50s. Now, at the age of 57, he is capable of sharing his story with others. But he still struggles with anxiety.
A few years ago, McIntosh said, he filed a complaint with police, but they couldn’t act on it because so much time has elapsed. The attacker, however, knows that McIntosh filed the complaint.
Meanwhile, McIntosh discovered his attacker, who now lives in Shawnee, helps with an organization where men mentor young schoolchildren.
“It’s ironic and sickening that he is involved in a program trying to protect young children from people like himself,” McIntosh said.
More than a dozen survivors and advocates showed up to speak publicly about their experiences during Thursday’s hearing, and nearly two dozen provided written testimony. They emphasized the many reasons why children and adults may not be ready to talk about their trauma before the legal window slams shut.
SB 317 removes statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse and extends the deadline for survivors to file civil lawsuits from age 21 to 31. The bill also allows for civil lawsuits to be filed within three years of a criminal prosecution, regardless of the survivor’s age.
The committee is expected to consider amendments, including a “lookback” clause that would allow for civil lawsuits to be filed regardless of age for three years after the law takes effect. The committee could vote on the final product as soon as Friday.
“Children are worried they will not be believed: What will people think of me? Will my future be in jeopardy? Maybe it’s easier just not to say anything,” said Terin Humphrey, a two-time Olympic silver medalist from the Kansas City area whose gymnastic accomplishments were celebrated by lawmakers during this session.
Humphrey said she was abused at age 15, that it took more than 20 years to talk about, and that she still isn’t comfortable talking about her experiences. Having children made her understand this wasn’t something she could simply move on from.
“Imagine the most terrible, embarrassing thing that has ever happened in your life. Would you want to share it?” Humphrey said. “I tried years and years to forget what happened, to move forward, to survive, or whatever you want to call it. It’s not that easy. I didn’t even want to believe myself. One day the nightmares consume you, until you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t live.”
Kari Crump, of Junction City, said she was raped by a child care provider’s husband at the age of 8 in 1985.
“It wasn’t until 36 years after this incident that I sought therapy and was strong enough to find my voice and, you know, start healing from some of this pain,” Crump said. “I just told my parents two weeks ago. I had a lovely childhood, and I have amazing family. But as an 8-year-old, when this happens to you, sometimes you don’t even have the actual vocabulary to tell other people.”
Crump said nothing can change the past, but lawmakers “have the power to change the future.”
Gisele Shore, of Bucyrus, said her son was abused by a scoutmaster daily for five years. The man, who has since been convicted of child sex crimes in other states, drugged her son, gave him alcohol and made him carry a pager.
Her son initially faced statute of limitation hurdles in Missouri, and the attacker continued to abuse other boys.
After years of legal wrangling, her son won a $100 million civil case against the Boy Scouts. But 80,000 other boys who were in Boy Scouts have now disclosed their abuse, and the organization now faces bankruptcy.
Her son died from suicide in November 2017.
“I hope that this, my words to you, as a mother who lost her child, will have a great impact on you,” Shore said.
Sen. Beverly Gossage, a Eudora Republican, thanked the survivors for appearing before the committee and sharing their experience.
“We hear you. We heard your stories. There are so many more that we’ve also heard,” Gossage said. “And I know it took a lot of courage to be here today.”
In a statement, Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said the issue of child sex abuse is of “grave importance” to the Catholic Church and all of society. He commended the work of lawmakers and the courage of survivors for sharing their stories.
“The sexual abuse of children or anyone else, particularly when it happens as an act of the most intimate betrayal in the context of one’s religious faith, is nothing short of horrific,” Weber said. “On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Kansas, we again ask forgiveness from all sexual abuse victims who have been harmed by members of the Catholic clergy. There is no time limitation on when the Catholic Church will offer services and support to clergy abuse victims.”
Weber said the church is determined to learn from “what has happened in our past” and not let it happen again. That includes implementing background checks, ongoing training, citizen review boards, mandatory reporting and other internal policies.
“In this crucible of shared pain and anger, we have discerned some of the measures that do help, as far as any human space can be free from sexual abuse,” Weber said.