During the 2015-2016 Regular Session of the General Assembly, our Georgia elected-officials are expected to vote on HB 17 – “the Hidden Predator Act.”
“A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Chapter 3 of Title 9 and Article 2 of Chapter 5 of Title 49 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to limitations of actions and child abuse and deprivation records, respectively, so as to extend the statute of limitations for actions for childhood sexual abuse; to provide for a short title; to provide for limitations of liability for certain legal entities; to change provisions relating to tolling of limitations for a minor’s cause of action; to change provisions relating to the tolling of limitations for tort actions while criminal prosecution is pending; to change provisions relating to the confidentiality and use of certain records; to provide for related matters; to provide for an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.” (Click for the full text)
Dry prose indeed. But it seeks to address a heinous situation in our state: the ongoing victimization of children, and the legal system’s inability to bring the perpetrators of unspeakable crimes to justice.
Imagine a small south Georgia town where it seems that most children are involved with a local karate academy. Parents send their children to “Master Peeples” and his staff with full faith and confidence that their sons and daughters will have fun while learning respect, self-discipline, and the joys of participation. The Academy is beloved by the town, participates in festival parades, puts on displays of student-prowess, and is, in all respects, a cherished and trusted member of the community.
Now imagine learning that the owner of that venerable academy is suspected of molesting children. A courageous young man has spoken out at last. More victims come forth. They suffer through the unimaginable pain of reliving horrific events from their childhood. They withstand the cruel taunts of those who seek the comfort of denial.
You swallow your rage and revulsion and gently question your son or daughter. You watch the news stories unfold. You pray – please God, please God, not my child. But you may never know.
Thomas Ary, a volunteer at Pak’s Karate in Kingsland, was arrested and charged with child molestation. The owner, Warren Craig Peeples, was also under investigation, but four months later, District Attorney Jackie Johnson revealed in a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations: “While there is sufficient evidence to proceed with criminal charges for acts involving multiple victims, the state would be barred by the applicable statute of limitations…”
Johnson’s letter continued “The expiration of the statute of limitations is an absolute bar to prosecution. As such, my office is unable to proceed to grand jury on these allegations” and “Based upon witness interviews, multiple acts of sodomy, aggravated sodomy, child molestation, aggravated child molestation and sexual battery occurred with students of Pak’s Karate beginning as early as 1988 and continuing up until 2001.”
So there you have it: damaged minds and hearts; a community torn apart; six victims whose courage was tested… and they were victimized once again – this time by an antediluvian system that protects the devil while sacrificing angels on the altar of unconscionable and indefensible legalities.
Six former victims came forth, but how many others have been silenced by fear and shame? How do they go on, watching each day as the bus takes more children to the “Academy”? How do any of us sleep at night knowing that we are complicit in this crime through our silence and lack of protest?
We cannot erase the scars of past deeds – but we can come together to right grievous wrongs, seek justice, and try to shed light on the dark and fetid corners that the existing laws cannot penetrate.
Please contact your elected leaders and ask them to support HB 17. “Like” the Hidden Predator Act Facebook page. Speak out for those who are, too often, voiceless. Enough is enough.
I wrote this article with the full knowledge that some within our community will be offended for their loyalty is fierce and they question the veracity of the victim’s statements, the findings of the investigators, and the statements of the DA. To them I would say “When in doubt – any doubt at all – err on the side of the children.” I have come to know one of the victims well. I have seen and heard the evidence. I have done my “due diligence.”
Even if you choose not to believe that crimes were committed in this case, you must agree that a statute of limitations with child abuse is inexcusable. Consider the victims of such crimes: the trusting children who are surrounded by adults who, by their words and actions, let the child know that his/her abuser is a “Good person.” What is that child to do? How are they to know?
Then the years go by. They grow – fragile flowers somehow rising through the sullied soil – and they begin to realize that the wounds remain. They begin to understand the utter Wrongness of what was done to them. They summon the strength to speak as they watch, day by day, more children enter an arena of pain. And how do we respond? We say “It’s too late for your voice. It’s too late for justice. You should have said something when you were too young to reach the high shelf above the kitchen counter or stay out after dark.”
I am not so naïve as to imagine that some claims of abuse, years after the fact, are unfounded. Humans are humans. But when six victims come forth, when (after thorough investigation) the DA is convinced of crimes and yet stopped by legal minutiae, when the evidence is clear, documented, and indisputable, it’s time to say “Enough!”
A splinter will, after time, rise to the surface. If untreated, it will fester. If it festers, the system is compromised. Are we willing to sacrifice our children? Are we willing to continue to feed into this conspiracy of silence? I hope not.