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Bridie Farrell: A survivor’s voice advances cause

Advocate and abuse survivor Bridie Farrell speaks June 26, 2019, about her abuse experience during a press conference at the Downtown Hilton. Farrell, who was only 15 years old when she was abused by a speed skating teammate who was 32, lobbied for an Arizona law that expands the statute of limitations for sex abuse survivors to sue. PHOTO BY GRAYSON SCHMIDT/CRONKITE NEWS

Advocate and abuse survivor Bridie Farrell speaks June 26, 2019, about her abuse experience during a press conference at the Downtown Hilton. Farrell, who was only 15 years old when she was abused by a speed skating teammate who was 32, lobbied for an Arizona law that expands the statute of limitations for sex abuse survivors to sue. PHOTO BY GRAYSON SCHMIDT/CRONKITE NEWS

A former competitive speed skater from New York became an unlikely player in the crucial last few weeks of this year’s Arizona legislative session.

Bridie Farrell was sexually abused by a speed skating teammate when she was 15, and her public disclosure of that abuse more than a decade later led to many other survivors sharing their stories with her. She channeled her frustration with the lack of legal recourse available to them into a nonprofit organization, NY Loves Kids, which advocated for a change to the Empire State’s statute of limitations law.

When Arizona Sens. Paul Boyer and Heather Carter ran into roadblocks in their attempts to pass a bill giving abuse survivors more opportunities to sue, Farrell joined their push for the legislation.

How did you end up in Arizona and advocating for this bill? 

In New York, I met some folks from across the country that came in to help pass the Child Victims Act, as it’s called in New York state. I sat down with these folks and we looked nationally at what other states were working on that could be passed. They asked if I wanted to be involved in Arizona and I said of course I did. Just my efforts on trying to be more involved on a national level is how I got to Arizona.

The law in New York took quite a bit of work over a few years to get passed. What does that law look like now?

The statute in New York previously was age 23. Now it’s 55 for civil and 28 for criminal, and we have a one-year window from this August, so August 2020, when survivors are able to file any retroactive suits.

What did you learn from the experience in New York that you were able to share with Senator [Paul] Boyer and Senator [Heather] Carter and some of the other people advocating for the bill here?

Oh my God, do you have all afternoon? I think what we found in New York is that people are reluctant to speak up still, with all the stigma that surrounds it. Because there was so much opposition to the bill in Arizona, we saw that folks were reluctant to come forward. Not until I came from New York did a fellow Arizonan come and speak publicly because now she had an ally. It goes to show that it’s hard for folks to come forward. I think that was something I was able to bring to Arizona, that I wasn’t worried about going to work the next day in Phoenix or going on vacation in Tucson and having people look at me differently. Just the value of survivors coming forward and continuing to recognize why it was important, I think that was something I was able to bring to Arizona.

You have shared your story a number of times over the years since that first time in 2013, and I’d have to imagine that it’s still pretty painful. Why do you keep sharing it and talking about what happened?

It is certainly not easy, but it will never be as bad as it was. Since coming forward with my story, so many other people have disclosed their story for the first time ever. I just feel I’m in a unique position and I’m very fortunate to be able to help so many folks come forward and come to peace and grips with what happened to them. I think that is necessary to have all these different aspects for change to occur and for us to make it safer for tomorrow’s kids. That includes people like me coming forward, but then it includes people like Senator Boyer and Senator Carter who are willing to truly stand up for what was right. We haven’t seen that anywhere in the country. I think it’s a collection of all of these forces.

Now that you’ve been working on a more national level, how does the law that Arizona passed compare to other states? 

Something that I think was very unique to Arizona was unique, strong, courageous leaders that, with all due respect to the Empire State, we hadn’t seen there. That to me was the difference – that people stood up for what they really believed in. On top of that, the Senate Dems were an amazing group of people. They could have buckled multiple times, and they didn’t. To me, that aspect, the political fortitude to really stick to what should be a nonpartisan issue is what was so unique about Arizona.

Are there any states that have gotten their approach to the statute of limitations or ending child sex abuse completely right?

All of these movements are in the correct direction. One of the most beautiful things about this country is that it’s so diverse. Each state has a different culture and each state is going to move forward as it can. I would love to see sweeping federal legislation to help children everywhere, but I think the lift in New York to extend civil to age 55 is amazing. The bill that passed in New Jersey had some really amazing aspects to it. The bill that passed in Arizona has an 18-month window. That’s more than New York. I think there’s all these incremental steps and changes that are all moving in the right direction. The thing about it is it does take compromise on all sides. So no, I don’t think there’s one golden ticket, but it seems like the collection of all of this movement is what’s going to make a difference.

Do you see any movement toward federal legislation?

At this point in time, I’m not sure. It’s going to be a difficult task, but I think that if we can say from coast to coast across the country that these are the rules and everyone’s playing by the same rules, that will be really helpful. I’d love to work on that, but until that, it’s up to the individual states to move the bar independently.

If you could talk to someone who’s been where you are, who was victimized as a child or a teenager and is now trying to come to terms with what happened to them and whether or how to speak out about what happened, what would you most want to tell that person?

What I want to say to everyone is to listen. If you’re someone a survivor has opened up to, listen. Don’t be so quick to advise, don’t be so quick to judge, don’t be so quick to do anything, but just truly listen. That also goes to the survivors out there that are hearing my words and thinking about their own story. With NY Loves Kids, we have journals that we give to people. We ask them to go home and write to themselves and let themselves listen and acknowledge the abuse they went through. I’d encourage people to reach out and share their story. And sharing your story doesn’t mean being on the front page of The Arizona Republic, right? Sharing your story can be in whatever capacity it is. People are emailing me all the time with their personal experiences and stories and what steps they should take next, and I’m happy, happy, happy to answer those questions that people send me. But it would be to ask people just to open up and have the faith in themselves to listen to themselves and share their truth.

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