Abuse sur­vivor says bill would give her jus­tice

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kath­leen E. Carey kcarey@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @dt­busi­ness on Twit­ter

Deb­bie Wil­liamson Warren has lived with the night­mare of be­ing sex­u­ally abused by her science teacher.

For al­most 40 years, Deb­bie Wil­liamson Warren has lived with the night­mare of be­ing sex­u­ally abused by her science teacher, and the only way she feels she can pro­tect oth­ers is through the pro­vi­sions that pro­posed leg­is­la­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia – House Bill 1947 – may pro­vide.

The Florida res­i­dent and her fam­ily moved to the Ol­ney sec­tion of Philadel­phia when she en­tered fifth grade.

“I was 9 years old,” the now 47-year-old said. “My fam­ily had just moved from Danville, Va. My dad took the po­si­tion as a prin­ci­pal at Cedar Grove Chris­tian Academy” in north­east Philadel­phia.

Child­hood sex­ual abuse is a per­va­sive so­ci­etal prob­lem that gained much ex­po­sure af­ter the Arch­dio­cese of Bos­ton came un­der scru­tiny in 2002 for wide­spread abuse and con­ceal­ment. In the Philadel­phia re­gion, two grand jury re­ports in 2005 and 2011 out­lined abuse and coverups in the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia. Since then, var­i­ous leg­isla­tive ap­peals have at­tempted to ad­dress the is­sue.

One of them — House Bill 1947 — would ex­tend or elim­i­nate crim­i­nal and civil statute of lim­i­ta­tions for cases in­volv­ing child­hood sex­ual abuse. The ini­tial House ver­sion in­cluded an amend­ment that would al­low adult sur­vivors age 50 and younger to pur­sue civil jus­tice. That was stripped from the Se­nate ver­sion due to con­cerns re­gard­ing con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity. The bill now rests with the House for re­con­sid­er­a­tion and some, in­clud­ing state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, of Berks County, had said he is de­bat­ing whether to rein­sert that pro­vi­sion.

Warren said there was a science teacher at the school at that time who be­came a good friend of her fam­ily and who rented a house her fam­ily owned.

“They trusted him,” Warren said. “He was a science teacher, he was a Chris­tian. They would drop me off when they went shop­ping, when they’d go out. He be­gan to groom me.” That es­ca­lated into phys­i­cal­ity. “He would wres­tle with me and tickle me,” Warren said. “That be­gan with him touch­ing me.”

Then, the in­ci­dents of touch­ing in­creased.

“The bal­cony of the church, he would touch me,” Warren said. “In the science lab, he would touch me. In the class­room, he would touch me, in his home. Several times, it was hands down my

pants, fin­gers …”

Warren re­called stay­ing at his house in his daugh­ter’s room overnight as her par­ents trusted him and they had gone out of town.

“Even­tu­ally, I woke up with him on top of me and he was rap­inwg me” as his daugh­ter lay next to her, Warren said.

She said he tried to keep her quiet for two years.

“(He) threat­ened me not to say any­thing,” she said, adding that he told her, “My par­ents would lose their min­istry at the church.”

“He guilted me (say­ing) he would go to jail and I didn’t want him to go to jail,” Warren added.

She re­called him putting his hand down her shirt while go­ing sled­ding dur­ing big snow­falls.

She said he’d place a blan­ket over her while she and his chil­dren watched TV in the base­ment and he would put his hands down her pants.

Warren said she was trapped.

“I would try to get away but he was stronger than me,” she said.

The abuse im­pacted other ar­eas of her life.

“I was sick to my stom­ach all the time as a child,” Warren said, adding that she al­most failed sixth grade. “Ev­ery time the phone would ring, I would be really ner­vous.”

When she was 11 years old, she told her par­ents and her dad told the school board and reli­gious officials as­so­ci­ated with the school.

Warren said she was pulled out of class to speak to the pas­tor, an as­sis­tant pas­tor and a guid­ance coun­selor by her­self.

She said they told her “he ad­mit­ted it and he was sorry. He promised to not have any more con­tact with me. They let him fin­ish out the year.”

She said she was told to keep quiet.

“(They said) for me to not tell any­body or talk about it at all,” she said.

Warren said they told her par­ents, “You don’t want to put her up on the wit­ness stand. Don’t call the po­lice that would make the school look bad. You need to for­give. That’s the Chris­tian thing to do. He promised he wouldn’t do that any­more.”

She said her fam­ily lived in the neigh­bor­hood an­other three years be­fore mov­ing to North Carolina.

“I lit­er­ally put this be­hind me, I didn’t know how to han­dle it,” Warren said.

In her mid-30s, she said she started to have a chal­leng­ing time.

“I was hav­ing night­mares, I was los­ing sleep, I was de­pressed,” she said. “I went through a lot of de­pres­sion.”

She would have dif­fi­cul­ties with cer­tain smells and cer­tain places she would go.

She spoke to some­one in her church who ad­vised her to go to the po­lice, where she learned the statute of lim­i­ta­tions in these in­stances had ex­pired.

Her pas­tor sug­gested she write a let­ter and send it to her abuser. So she did.

“I got a let­ter six days later in his hand­writ­ing,” Warren said.

In the four-page mis­sive from a decade ago, the for­mer teacher said he was un­able to ask her for­give­ness be­cause he was de­nied con­tact to her.

“I re­gret deeply all the pain I have caused (your par­ents), but chiefly the tur­moil it has caused you and your hus­band all … these years,” he wrote. “You need ‘jus­tice’ much more than I need ‘mercy.’ What rec­om­pense can I give?”

Out­lin­ing an abu­sive child­hood in­clud­ing his own sex­ual abuse and sui­ci­dal thoughts, he ad­mit­ted his acts.

“The only plea I have is ‘guilty,’” he wrote. “The only Advocate I have is Je­sus Christ the Right­eous One who paid for my ‘de­prav­ity’ with His blood … I know I can­not be trusted around ‘lit­tle girls.’ I know that I am a pe­dophile and have been one since about 10 years old … you were not the first nor the last.”

He ended his let­ter, “I do not look for­ward to the jud(g)ment seat of Christ.”

Warren said her pe­dophile had been ac­cused at least two other times with 9- and 10-year-old girls. She said he pleaded guilty to a mis­de­meanor in 1995 as a vic­tim’s par­ent didn’t want their child on the wit­ness stand.

“He just lucked out ev­ery time,” Warren said.

She wrote to her for­mer school be­cause she un­der­stood her per­pe­tra­tor was per­mit­ted to re­turn, where she said he was as­sist­ing in youth pro­grams and in overnight camps.

“This is my sit­u­a­tion, this is my story and I want clo­sure, I want clo­sure,” she said. “They never an­swered me back. They got an at­tor­ney. I wanted to meet with them with­out at­tor­neys … They re­fused to do that.”

She said she spoke to the pas­tor who ap­proached the school board and dea­cons to express his con­cern.

“They ex­pressed no sor­row for how they han­dled ev­ery­thing,” she said, adding that she was only no­ti­fied by le­gal coun­sel af­ter she ap­peared in a doc­u­men­tary. “They re­fused to meet with me. They re­fused to ac­knowl­edge that they did any­thing wrong with the way they han­dled all of this.”

Her dis­clo­sure, she said, caused a split in the church that over­saw the academy.

Jeff Howard is prin­ci­pal of the 350-stu­dent Cedar Grove school that teaches pre-K through eighth grade. Work­ing his way up from a main­te­nance po­si­tion to a teacher, he be­came school prin­ci­pal five years ago.

He said several things oc­curred when they re­ceived Warren’s let­ter.

“We heard that, it was like, ‘Wow!’” Howard said. “It’s hard to be­lieve that some­thing like that hap­pens. We really had no rea­son to doubt it.”

The prin­ci­pal said school officials said her abuser could no longer be on cam­pus. They then held a town hall meet­ing in which 250 peo­ple at­tended to let them know this hap­pened.

“This was some­thing we ob­vi­ously were just as sur­prised as they were,” Howard ex­plained. “We take the safety of our stu­dents, past ones, present ones and fu­ture ones, we take that very, very se­ri­ously.”

In the mean­time, he said they be­gan to eval­u­ate what safe­guards were in place and what needed to be es­tab­lished.

“It kind of raised aware­ness,” Howard said. “This is not good. We need to make sure that we’re do­ing the right thing go­ing for­ward.”

Now, teach­ers are sub­ject to FBI fin­ger­print­ing and security back­ground clear­ances.

Teach­ers were trained, and take an­nual re­fresher classes, to iden­tify signs of child sex abuse and how to re­spond to that. Stu­dents, Howard ex­plained, are taught at their level how to rec­og­nize in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior and what to do in those sit­u­a­tions.

Howard said school officials tried to reach out to Warren and had a lawyer, who is an alum who sits on their board, con­tact her af­ter they re­ceived a sec­ond let­ter from her.

“It was a le­gal type let­ter,” Howard said, adding that it was threat­en­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of le­gal ac­tion.

He said the lawyer also spoke to the per­pe­tra­tor.

“When this took place,” Howard said of the ini­tial abuse, “there were peo­ple in­volved with it in­clud­ing her fa­ther that de­cided not to take ac­tion on it, at least not le­gal ac­tion.”

He said the teacher was re­moved.

“The record of the school, he was dis­missed,” Howard said. “It wasn’t an in­stan­ta­neous dis­missal. To­day, would that be an in­stan­ta­neous dis­missal? Oh yeah … That was un­for­tu­nate. To­day, our ac­tion would be re­port it im­me­di­ately.”

Howard said they think about Warren.

“We really feel for Deb­bie, we really do, we want to do the right thing,” he said. “I feel very sad that this took place to her.”

He said in his 27-year ca­reer there was no in­ci­dent like this. “This was a real shocker,” he said.

“I’m sure it has to be dif­fi­cult for her,” Howard said. “We pray for her of­ten.

We pray for her of­ten. We really love her. We want what’s best for her and for our school. With the new laws that are go­ing into ef­fect soon, I pray for our school a lot.”

Warren said she feels House Bill 1947 is her only course of ac­tion left.

“That’s ac­tu­ally my last and only hope right now,” she said. “There’s noth­ing I can do about it be­cause of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions. He’s out there still. He’s free to mo­lest and touch any girls he wants.”

Warren said if this bill passes, she is con­sid­er­ing le­gal ac­tion.

“We live in Amer­ica,” she said. “We don’t live in North Korea. They would shoot you in the back of the

head. We use money. They go to jail or we take their money.”

She said she wants to get this man on a list to pro­tect other chil­dren from him and she is un­able to pur­sue crim­i­nal charges be­cause those statute of lim­i­ta­tions have passed.

“The only thing I have is this bill,” she said. “I know that my goal is to pre­vent this from ever hap­pen­ing again … My only re­course is to take le­gal ac­tion against the pe­dophile as well as the lead­ers who hid and cov­ered up his ac­tions and con­tin­ued to al­low a known pe­dophile to be around the very chil­dren they should be pro­tect­ing.”

Warren said she re­grets not pur­su­ing this ear­lier as

an adult.

“I wasn’t ready to face it all again,” she said. “It was hard enough to come for­ward with all of this heavy stuff at 11 years old. It’s em­bar­rass­ing to talk about some­one sex­u­ally abus­ing you. This has af­fected ev­ery area of my life. I have fear, I have anx­i­ety, I have de­pres­sion. My self-im­age is hor­ri­ble. I carry guilt that I couldn’t stop him but I was just a lit­tle girl … a lit­tle girl who barely even had the words to use to ex­plain what had hap­pened to me.”

The mar­ried mother of four and breast cancer sur­vivor said she be­lieves God al­lows bad things to make us stronger peo­ple and she wants to use that to help

oth­ers.

She said reli­gious in­sti­tu­tions of any de­nom­i­na­tion should lead this ef­fort.

“They should be the first to apol­o­gize and make things right,” Warren said. “They should be the first to do the right thing and un­cover the dark­ness … Those of us who were abused in the ‘70s and ‘80s and ‘90s are hurt­ing. We need clo­sure. We need the Church to be­gin the process of mak­ing this right.

“I am try­ing to do what­ever I can do to get the bill passed,” Warren said. “God kept me alive from cancer for a rea­son and I’m think­ing this is one of the rea­sons. I don’t ever want to see any more kids go through this.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Deb­bie Wil­liamson Warren talks pub­licly about her past and her strug­gles as a vic­tim of child­hood sex­ual abuse.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTOS

Deb­bie Wil­liamson Warren as she ap­peared at the time she was abused as a youth.

A por­tion of the let­ter sent to Deb­bie Wil­liamson Warren by her abuser.

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