The Good Life: Long Ago Sexual Abuse: How To Vote?
If you had asked me when I was in my 40s whether I had been sexually abused as a child, the answer would have been,
“Hell, no! What gave you such a crazy idea?”
When I was in my 40s, I had no recollection of such trauma.
Today, the answer is “Yes.” I was sexually abused when I was 11 years old. I relearned that about 15 years ago.
But if you asked me to get on a witness stand and tell a jury about it, my testimony would be halting, filled with gaps, even contradictory with respect to details.
Because I realize that, I remain troubled by a recent change in state law.
The legislation does not apply to me directly. My abuser has been dead for decades. He was not a cleric or a member of an identifiable group, so there is nobody to sue for damages.
I am troubled by the new law because it allows boys and girls to, in the future, bring criminal charges against alleged abusers up until the victims reach age 55.
In my case, that would have been 44 years — an eternity in which to piece together memories from childhood., I totally wiped the abuse out of my conscious memory until I was more than 60 years old, when it all came crashing back to me.
Some childhood memories are “film at 11” vivid. One of mine is of an out-of-body experience at age 10, when my appendix broke a half-day before I got to a hospital.
The recovery took three months. Almost all of that is completely gone from my memory. But I can describe that one afternoon of out-of-body experience in Technicolor detail, right down to the sickly green color of the hallway walls in the hospital as I was rushed into an operating room.
Today, I could testify with total confidence in the accuracy of my answers as to what happened to me on that afternoon in 1952 — but I cannot for the life of me remember the day of the week or the month of the year.
I could find out by checking old hospital records, I suppose. But what would I answer if a lawyer asked me on what day of the week that burst appendix occurred? Would I say, falsely, “I remember; it was a Tuesday?” Or would I say, truthfully, “I have no idea. I now say it was a Tuesday, but that is because I checked hospital records, not because I remember.”
As to the sexual assaults, I know Friday night boxing matches coincided with some of them … but which Friday nights? December? Or May? I draw a blank. How could I accuse someone of having sexually assaulted me on, say, Feb. 11, 1954? And how could someone today accurately claim innocence by recalling, “No, I was sick in bed with the flu on that date”?
That kind of spotty memory troubles me about the new law. Ask me if I wish to see sexual abusers punished. My face tightens, my voice gets harsh. The words I use go far beyond what is legally permissible to do to anyone, even a guilty sexual abuser. Yes, I want the them to be punished.
But … do I want to see someone in prison who did not commit the abuse? No.
What about someone who might have abused a kid, or might not have done so?
“That person walks free,” I say. Our country’s founders saw that it is better to allow a few guilty people to walk free rather than to imprison an innocent person. I have preached that all my life. Now, hard as it is for me to say, I would have to respond, “Let him go.”
All of us who vote in Pennsylvania might need to face this issue soon.
Philadelphia’s KYW New station reported this: “Adults who were victimized as children … are not included in the latest reforms.
“Instead, lawmakers decided those claims for relief should be folded into a proposed constitutional amendment which would be put before lawmakers one more time and then the voters.”
In 2022 or 2023, if such an amendment makes it through the two-year process, I will have to vote to allow charges to be brought up to a half-century after the fact.
Which way to vote?
I know the stunning clarity of some of my childhood trauma memories. I also know the huge gaps in those memories. And what I “remember” can be recollections of things I was told, not memories that originated with me.
So … which way to vote? I might have to make that decision.
So might you.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.