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Child sex abuse survivors want more time to seek justice

By Haley Harrison

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    KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KMBC) — In Kansas, child sex abuse survivors want more time to seek justice. It’s one of 15 states where so-called “window” bills have been introduced, allowing victims more time to sue their abusers.

As it stands right now, survivors get three years after they turn 18. But two Kansas women abused by their gymnastics coach told KMBC 9 Investigates that’s not nearly enough time.

“I like to say that gymnastics, it hurt me, but it also saved me,” said Kim Bergman.

It’s where Bergman found a counterbalance to life’s troubles.

“Gymnastics was my safe place away when there were things going on at home,” she said.

That changed when she says a coach groomed and molested her repeatedly in the summer of 1998 when she was 12.

“When it’s happening, you don’t realize you’re being attacked,” Bergman said.

Lawrence police investigated but no charges were filed. Ten years later, her attacker — David Byrd — was convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old gymnast in Topeka.

“If she had the chance to pursue her case when she was older, then my case never would have happened,” Tess Ramirez said.

As adults, both women wanted to sue Byrd. But their time had run out. The state’s statute of limitations gives adult survivors of child sex abuse just three years to get justice in civil court from 18 to 21.

“Victims all come to a different place at different times and there shouldn’t be a clock on it, especially when we didn’t know a clock was started,” Bergman said.

Kansas state Sen. Cindy Holscher, of Overland Park, has introduced a bill to eliminate the civil statute of limitations in these cases. Child advocates say current Kansas laws on this issue are among the worst in the nation.

“The law the way it is written, protects the pedophiles. It protects the perpetrators,” Holscher said.

There was no opposition to a similar bill introduced in the house last year. But there’s been no hearing in the Senate. KMBC 9 Investigates repeatedly tried reaching judiciary committee chair Leawood Sen. Kellie Warren for comment. She did not respond.

“We could have perpetrators essentially in hiding that are not being revealed because people aren’t able to bring civil cases,” Holscher said.

Fifteen states and two territories have eliminated the civil statute of limitations.

“We are not talking about a slip-and-fall case or a fender-bender case or a breach of contract case. We are talking about the rape, sodomy, and sexual assault of our innocent children,” said Kathryn Robb, of Child USA.

Survivors may not feel comfortable coming forward about their abuse for many years. It’s called delayed disclosure. The average age is 52.

“Why should the perpetrators be benefitted and protected by the passage of time when victims suffer in perpetuity?” Robb said.

Bergman is coaching gymnastics in Shawnee, and she said she supports the new legislation in Kansas.

“I would file a suit 1,000% and expecting not to get a dime,” Bergman said. “That would be awesome to be able to have a day in court.”

Kansas also allows child sex abuse survivors up to three years to sue after the discovery of an injury or illness caused by the abuse. In Missouri, child sex abuse survivors can sue up to the age of 31.

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