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Sexual abuse victims speaking out, but not always publicly

Other victims of sexual abuse as children are finding their voices in the wake of the Penn State University scandal, only most not so publicly or dramatically.

This week, three women and a man accused Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin, a Largo resident, of molesting them as children in the 1970s. One who is now a prosecutor in Atlantic City said they spoke out because the case against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky reminded them of the secrecy that characterized their own victimization.

Other sports figures recently called out by alleged victims have included Syracuse University's ex-coach Bernie Fine and the Amateur Athletic Union's ex-president Robert Dodd.

But most victims are not taking as bold a step as Conlin's accusers. They are talking, often for the first time, but only anonymously. In the Tampa Bay area, prosecutors and crisis centers have not seen a surge of reports.

Anonymous chat rooms have.

The sites are "like a practice run," said Ken Followell of Bradenton, president of MaleSurvivor: National Organization against Male Sexual Victimization.

He said stories of sexual abuse on his organization's website have gone way up, but most victims aren't naming names.

There are many motivations to remain anonymous.

"As a survivor, I was afraid to talk about it," said Followell, who was abused by an uncle when he was 10. "I didn't want to prove what happened."

Getting justice isn't easy. Forensic evidence such as DNA may be nonexistent in decades-old cases, and witnesses may have died or moved. Florida's statute of limitations prevents prosecution of most felony cases more than three or four years old, depending on the charges or what the law called for when they happened. One exception is capital rape cases involving victims under 12. Those cases have no time limit.

"We do get cases like that," said Rita Peters, chief sex crimes prosecutor for the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office. "It happens when people are ready to talk."

Peters said coming forward can lead to justice even when the statute of limitations applies. The testimony and evidence can sometimes be used to bolster prosecution of other, more recent crimes by the offender.

Also, "a lot of victims need this for closure," she said. "There's always a benefit."

The statute of limitations does not apply the same way in civil actions. Litigation can occur in old cases if the plaintiff can show "fraudulent concealment," such as a coverup.

Jeff Herman, a Miami lawyer who currently has 150 active sexual abuse civil cases, said his website traffic and emails have tripled.

He tells victims, "Making the call is the beginning of healing."

In general, more victims are going public these days, said Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Kurt Romanosky. In some cases, he said, victims come forward "to seek justice for themselves," but in others, they are mainly concerned with preventing abusers from hurting anyone else.

Talking helps, no matter how long ago the assault happened, said Sarah Page, communications director at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, which has a 24-hour 211 hotline.

"People need to find healing within themselves."

Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. John Barry can be reached at jbarry@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3383.

If you're a victim

If it's an old case you're reporting to police, it's best to go directly to a police station because there will be papers to fill out, said Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters.

If you need to talk, dial 211, the 24-hour crisis hotline.

More support services and referrals are available at crisiscenter.com and malesurvivor.org.

Sexual abuse victims speaking out, but not always publicly 12/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 10:59pm]
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