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Missouri survivors of childhood sex abuse demand action from attorney general and lawmakers

Advocates for protections for survivors of childhood sexual abuse speak in front of the Missouri Supreme Court building prior to delivering a letter to the Missouri Attorney General.
Annelise Hanshaw
Missouri Independent
Advocates for protections for survivors of childhood sexual abuse speak in front of the Missouri Supreme Court building prior to delivering a letter to the Missouri Attorney General.

A group is demanding Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey begin investigating facilities accused of abuse, like Agape School in Stockton, Circle of Hope Ranch in Humansville and Kanakuk Kamps in Branson. The group is also advocating to extend the statute of limitations.

A group including survivors of childhood sexual abuse is hoping Missouri lawmakers will change state law to give victims more time to sue their assailants and that the attorney general will provide more oversight of boarding schools and camps.

Douglas Lay, assistant director of Missouri Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told reporters Monday afternoon that he was abused at school as a child and didn’t tell his story for 40 years.

“The trauma is sufficient enough to stay silent,” he said alongside survivors and advocates outside the Missouri Supreme Court building.

Monday, he testified in a Missouri Senate committee in favor of extending the statute of limitations to give survivors more time to share. In town for the committee hearing, the group also delivered a letter to Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey demanding he begin investigating camps and boarding schools that have been accused of abuse.

The committee held a hearing Monday on a bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot to make the time limits for filing a civil action the same as it is for criminal prosecutions.

Currently, survivors of childhood sexual abuse can file a civil suit against perpetrators until they reach the age of 31 and against other defendants until the age of 26. There is no statute of limitations for criminal cases of rape.

A similar bill last year sought to allow survivors to file a claim until they reach 55 years old.

Versions of the bill have yet to clear a committee in either the House or Senate, and with the legislative session ending May 17, their odds of passing are slim.

Kathryn Robb, executive director of nonprofit child-protection advocacy group CHILD USAdvocacy, said the statute of limitations is “arbitrary.”

“When the perpetrators silence the victims, they should not benefit from the statute of limitations that cuts (lawsuits) off,” she said. “It is just bad policy.”

Richard AuBuchon, executive director of the Missouri Civil Justice Reform, testified to the Senate committee he believes there should be “finality” to cases.

“There should be fair process, like we do in Missouri, where the statute of limitations creates a constitutional right that the case is final,” he said.

Ken Chackes, a St. Louis-based attorney, told reporters he has represented 300 or more survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

“Many survivors told me I was the first person they ever told,” he said.

Some have waited years to share their stories, Chackes said, because they wanted to shield loved ones from pain.

“They don’t want to put their parents through the devastating impact of learning that their child… was abused and suffered this trauma,” he said.

He believes allowing them to bring civil proceedings will allow more people to share their experiences, and in turn, expose abuse.

Lay and other advocates also delivered a letter to Bailey Monday asking for an investigation of facilities like Agape School in Stockton, Circle of Hope Ranch in Humansville and Kanakuk Kamps in Branson.

Agape has been accused of physical and sexual abuse, including restraint and starvation.

The daughter of the owners of Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch came forward in 2021 with stories of abuse. The facility is now shuttered, and the owners face 100 felony counts under prosecution by the Attorney General’s Office.

Former campers have alleged sexual abuse by a Kanakuk Kamps staffer and concealment of the abuse.

The letter submitted to Bailey reads: “Ample evidence already exists in the public record that these institutions lack oversight and sometimes attract predators who hurt kids.”

Advocates said oversight of facilities with known abuse will lead to widespread change in the child-boarding industry.

“Institutions don’t change unless there’s a threat of liability,” Robb said. “Just look at the history of time. They don’t change unless they can be sued.”

Bailey, in a statement to The Independent, said he will always “fight for Missouri to be the safest state in the nation for children.”

In 2021, former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt bemoaned local authorities for holding up the closure of Agape Boarding School after years of abuse allegations.

Agape announced its closure in January of 2023, blaming financial strains. In late 2022, a Cole County judge ruled that the school’s director was allowed to remain off Missouri’s child-abuse registry.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent.

Annelise Hanshaw covers education for the Missouri Independent — a beat she has held on both the East and West Coast prior to joining the Missouri Independent staff. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.
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