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This Latina Sexual Abuse Survivor Wants Stronger Laws for Child Victims

This Latina Sexual Abuse Survivor Wants Stronger Laws for Child Victims

Latina
By Raquel Reichard
May 24, 2017

Excerpt Below:

Ana Wagner was nine years old when she was first molested. Like two-thirds of sexual assault survivors, the Dominican-American woman knew her attacker. He was a family friend, the man her father was in business with.

It started in a Brooklyn, New York print shop, an enterprise her dad invested in and the place her attacker worked and lived. Wagner needed to print something for a school project and walked downstairs from her apartment to the store to do so. In the five minutes her mother gave her to make the prints, the man took advantage of her.

For three years the abuse continued, with Wagner living in silence and her family never suspecting any indiscretion. No one learned of the violence until she was 12 years old. Her Catholic school tasked students to do a research paper on any topic. She chose rape and molestation. Midway through her class presentation, Wagner had a panic attack.

They took me out of class. I was crying and shaking. All I could do was point to the book,” she recalled. “They asked me if had been raped. I said no. They asked me if I was being molested, and I said yes. Everything I was reading was happening to me.

She was terrified. She could only think of the problems that could arise: her father could lose the business. They’ll be homeless. He may even kill the man. Worst of all, she thought, it would all be her fault.

The young girl phoned her aunt, and she was the one who broke the news to her parents. The scene she envisioned didn’t come to life. In fact, everyone was calm. Her parents believed her, the attacker skipped town and she was told to never speak of it again.

She graduated valedictorian. She got a scholarship to study architecture in college, which she did before transferring into psychology. She was married and divorced. She had children. She was remarried. Soon, it was decades after her molestation. She passed the age, 23, in which victims of child sex abuse could bring either criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit against their abusers in New York, yet she hadn’t overcome the trauma it dealt her.

She was 32, and four years into therapy.

I finally burst. I was crying, punching pillows and mad that it was hidden under the rug for so long,” she said. “But I felt empowered.

That power, however, was limited under New York law. She had to fight to make a police report and was left with no recourse.

When it comes to obtaining justice for survivors of child sex abuse, New York has been called “a national shame.” It falls behind Florida, Georgia, Utah and Massachusetts, which all passed bills that offer survivors more time to bring their cases to court. In Florida, for instance, there are no statute of limitations for civil lawsuits or criminal charges for abuse that took place when a survivor was under the age of 16.

Wagner is part of a movement to pass similar legislation in New York. She lobbies between once and twice a month in Albany, has met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo two times, held meetings with several assemblywomen and even founded and organized the annual Walk for Survivors of Child Sex Abuse – all to push forward the Child Victims Act.If passed, the bill could sack the civil and criminal time for adults who were abused as children to bring cases to court, open a one-year window for survivors who can no longer sue under the current law, and treat public and private institutions equally when it comes to sex abuse cases.

Most survivors of child sex abuse that have not sought charges by 23 lose that opportunity for the rest of their lives, and we know most survivors don’t speak up because of trauma or because they told someone and they didn’t believe them,” Michael Polenberg, vice president of government affairs at Safe Horizon, told us.

The organization has long been a part of the battle to get the bill passed. However, these efforts have failed four times since 2006.

The Child Victims Act is no different. People who have been sexually abused are simply seeking their day in court. The court system will work as always in terms of fairness and quality,” Polenberg said. He continued: “It would restore the balance of power to the person who was harmed.”

For Wagner, it’s about healing, validation, regaining respect in the justice system and today’s young people.

Not another generation should believe it’s OK to just sweep this under the rug and go through adolescence not understanding the world and not being all they can be,” she said.

Read the original article here.