Federal legislation to provide aid for sexual assault survivors


Atem Richardson was five when his sister walked in on him being abused. She immediately told their mom, who placed the blame and guilt back onto the 5-year-old.

The fifth-year Webster senior said he no longer holds hate for his abuser. After years of self-growth and awareness, he said he learned how to let go of the hate and hurt.

“Ultimately it was like, I’m not about to take any blame for something that I can’t control as a young child,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he came to a point of his healing process in his adulthood that gave power back to him.

Congress passed two laws this year that work to give power back to victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse.

The Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act of 2017 lengthens the time for underage victims to file civil action lawsuits from three years to 10 years from the time they reach age 18. This law also changed the civil statute of limitations from 10 years of the violation, to 10 years from when the victim discovered a violation occurred.

Although Richardson found his peace, he said he thinks this law will help other victims with their search for healing.

“It wasn’t a part of my journey, and I’m okay with that,” Richardson said. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a part of somebody else’s journey.”

Danielle MacCartney said this law has potential to make a big impact. MacCartney is a sociology professor at Webster. She argued this law will help give children time to realize the abuse and have the strength to report it.

“When abuse happens, it can seem normal to a lot of children,” MacCartney said.

Maggie Menefee, the executive director of Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments, worked in a child services center for 10 years. She favors the new policy and said the extension of time is something that was needed a long time ago.

Congress also passed a law Sept. 4 to help victims afford the justice they may want.

The Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent Act of 2017 requires the U.S. Attorney’s office in all judicial districts to organize at least one public event a year. These events promote pro bono legal services for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

“It is a continuing dilemma for legal representation, the affordability and everything for domestic violence victims,” Menefee said. “A lot of them don’t qualify for the services in Eastern Missouri.”

Menefee said she thinks the law can be helpful to survivors but questioned the number of attorneys willing to work for free. MacCartney is more hopeful. She said she thinks many lawyers will want to help and believes this law can normalize the pro bono process.

“This act seems targeted to changing how the culture about what counts for pro bono legal work,” MacCartney said.

Richardson said he grew up in a poverty-stricken home. His family dealt with his sister’s abduction around the time of his abuse, and Richardson said if he had wanted to take legal action, there would have been no money to do so.

Even now as an adult, he believes he would need pro bono services if he wished to pursue legal action.

Laurie Waters manages communication and marketing at YWCA Women’s Place in St. Louis. She said she welcomes the attention these laws are providing for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

Implementation, Waters said, is the main concern surrounding these laws. She wants to wait and see how these laws will be enforced and upheld. MacCartney said she also tends to be cautious when dealing with legislation.

She believes the success of these laws depends on how the criminal justice system responds.

“Just like any other law, the devil is in the details,” Waters said.


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