By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW Lisa Foster still lives with a level of fear, knowing that she and the man who sexually abused her as a child still reside in the same community.
"There was a phase last year when I would have chairs against my doors," she said. "I would call the Longmeadow police and tell them that this is how I lived in this town."
But perhaps what bothers the 39-year-old single mother of two more is the thought that she may never be able to stand up in court and call out her abuser by name.
Foster, who says she was abused from the time she was 8 years old until she was 14, has faced an uphill battle in her attempt to receive some measure of justice due to the statute of limitations for both criminal prosecution and civil trial related to the alleged crimes.
"We need a whole new game plan for tackling childhood sexual abuse," she said.
It's these very reasons that Foster has taken the fight to the state Legislature in an effort to remove restrictive statute of limitations for civil proceedings relating to child sexual abuse.
Foster was one of the Massachusetts citizens who testified at the Judiciary Committee's hearing on child sexual abuse that took place in Boston on May 7 in an effort to have those statutes removed from the law for her own peace of mind as well as that of any others who may be shut out from having their day in court.
"I just wanted to give them an idea, a window into the realities of these traumas and why the laws don't work," she said.
Foster explained she has been unable to pursue legal recourse against her alleged attacker because she developed Dissociative Identity Disorder, a coping mechanism in which the brain compartmentalized and blocked out the painful details of her prolonged abuse. It wasn't until after her mother's death on Dec. 26, 2010 that she came to realize she had been a victim. Not until March 2011 did she come to understand who had committed crimes against her, she said.
"In many cases, if you are a victim of child sexual abuse, you repress it until it's safe to [let it into] your life," she said.
According the Massachusetts state law, there is no statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a child, however, if the alleged crimes occurred more than 27 years ago, independent evidence must corroborate the victim's claim.
Civil action can be pursued by a victim up to three years from the alleged act, three years from the time the victim turns 18, or three years from the time the victim discovered that an emotional or psychological injury or condition occurred a statute known as the "discovery rule."
Her efforts, she said, focus specifically on civil proceedings, as it would be unconstitutional to get rid of statutes of limitations for criminal complaints. The discovery rule, she said, may be the most ineffective.
"With the wording of the discovery rule, it's a task [for the victim] to prove they didn't know," she said. "What a ridiculous obstacle. I have to prove that four years ago I didn't understand that I was abused."
Foster also said the procedure through which a civil trial is sought also requires more money than many victims have.
"A survivor should not have the obstacle of money or of time to do something about crimes committed against them," she said. "If you are able to achieve the amount of self-esteem to even recognize that these were crimes and you should be able to do something about it, that's giant. We need to be recognizing that and the importance of that and allowing survivors that."
Foster was extremely open about her childhood experiences in an interview with Reminder Publications and went so far as to name her abuser. However, because the person she claims performed the acts has not been brought to court or included in any official state documentation, this publication could not print his name. Also, due to their graphic nature, the details of her allegations were not printed.
Foster wants to give victims the opportunity to have a voice and an avenue through which to use it.
"It feels absurd to get to know the things that happened to me as a child and there's no avenue through which to address it," she said. "It just shows you the flaw in the law."
Foster said it is important for sexual abuse victims to be able to publicly state that they suffered, and at whose hand, in order to come to grips with what happened to them and begin healing.
"If I had a terminal illness, I would need to do the measures to be completely healthy," she said. "That's what this is. It's wanting complete self-actualization. If you're a victim of crime, that crime takes away your self-value and your self-love. It teaches you self hatred."
Oftentimes attempts to do so are not received well by those closest to the victim, she added.
Foster detailed that at points in her past, she remembers trying to tell family members and friends about her abuse, including her mother, but her attempts to get help went unheard.
"Now that everything opened up to me, I remember trying to tell my mother as a teenager," he said. "I had memories of the abuse, though not who had done it. I remember trying to tell her and she had a violent reaction to it."
Foster also said early on in the abuse, she didn't know how to express what was happening. When she told people, "He does bad things to me," her statements were written off, she said.
Threats and actions by abusers can also prevent victims from reporting crimes in a timely manner, she said, and her case was no exception.
"A friend from my childhood who I hadn't seen in 30 years told me recently that before I moved out of her neighborhood, I came to her house and told her what [my abuser] told me. [He said] if I told anyone what [he] was doing to me, he was going to poison and kill my dogs," Foster recalled. "Two years later, those dogs were gone."
Now, she said, it feels as if the legal system is also silencing victims through the statutes of limitations.
"Naming your abuser is such a huge part of the healing process," she said. "From what I've heard, [going to court] is not for everyone, but I think it's one of the last phases of healing. If you make it that far, that option should be open to you."
In addition to testifying before the Judiciary Committee, Foster also sent a letter in February to each member of the state House of Representatives and Senate, naming her abuser, outlining the trauma she endured, and pleading with them to consider changing the laws.
Now she thinks the landscape is finally changing.
For the first time, she said, she believes lawmakers are ready to listen and take action, explaining that state Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), who had previously written a bill that would extend the statute of limitations to the age of 55, announced at the hearing he would revise his bill to completely eliminate those statutes.
"They're hearing and it's wonderful," she said.
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