A former national speed skating champion lent her voice Tuesday to those who want to give victims of child sexual assault and abuse more time to sue their assailants – and specifically those who permitted it to happen.
Bridie Farrell said that at age 15 she was an “up and coming speed skater” when she was molested repeatedly by a 33-year-old Olympic silver medalist.
“Whenever I went to training, he was there, whenever I competed, he was there,” she said.
What is of particular concern, Farrell said, is this man was investigated in 1990 – seven years before she was molested.
“And our paths should have never crossed,” she said. “He should have left the sport when I was entering the sport.”
Farrell, now 37, finally told her story 15 years later.
She said she is supporting the proposal by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, to give victims more time to sue because it is important for survivors to be able to tell their stories “and then to hold the institutions accountable that are facilitating this abuse.” Otherwise, Farrell said, things will not change.
That idea of not just providing more time to sue those who committed the assault but also those who were in charge and may have hidden what they know is one of the sticking points that has so far led to the failure of the bill to advance.
Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, refused to give a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to the version of the bill Boyer wants. And so far Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who has the power to yank the bill from Farnsworth and bring it to the floor – where Boyer said there are the votes for approval – has refused to do so.
Existing law gives those who were victimized as children just two years after they turn 18 to file suit.
Boyer wants to extend that to seven years. More significant, he wants that clock to start running only when someone is aware they have been victimized, defined in his legislation as disclosing the assault to a licensed medical or mental health care provider.
And there’s something else. He proposes allowing these lawsuits, whenever they are filed, not just against the person who committed the abuse but any public or private corporation, association, firm, estate or “any other legal entity.”
Fann has told Capitol Media Services she is concerned that could result in a lawsuit against someone who employed another long-gone person years before, leaving the organization unable to defend itself.
Farrell, however, sees it from a different perspective, what with having been abused by someone who she contends the U.S. Olympic Committee knew was abusing children and should have been kept away from them.
“The issue is when you have an organization that knows there’s a problem with this individual, yet the organization keeps moving them from place to place,” she said. “If you have an organization that’s supposed to be helping keep kids safe and be productive members of our society, yet those organizations are harboring it, that’s what needs to be addressed.”
And that, she said, will force organizations to create safeguards to prevent future victims.
For the moment there is a stalemate.
Boyer and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, have said they won’t vote for a budget plan until Fann allows a vote on the measure, leaving Fann without the votes needed among her 17-member GOP caucus.
Fann, however, shows no sign of backing down. And even if Boyer gets the bill out of the Senate he still needs to have it clear the House.
That still leaves the option of taking his case directly to voters, asking them to enact the statutory changes that he wants. That, however, means gathering at least 237,645 valid signatures by July 2, 2020.
Boyer acknowledged he could get a partial victory: Farnsworth said he would support a much narrower expansion of the time to sue, giving victims until they turn 25. But Boyer said that is unacceptable, as most victims don’t come forward until they are in their 40s.
“As you can imagine, the emotional, the psychological trauma of survivors, it just doesn’t give them enough time,” he said. “And I can’t look them in the face and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t do anything that actually helps you but maybe we’ll get something next year.’ ”
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who disclosed on the Senate floor last week her own multiple incidents of rape by her grandfather, added her voice to urging that a vote on the issue be allowed.
“This is an opportunity for them to do something amazing,” she said. “They can either protect the abused children or protect the monsters that do this and those who enable them.”