A Pandemic of Harm
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
I was honored with the request to submit a letter to the Public Safety Committee of the Minnesota State Legislature last week, as they were once again hearing testimony arguing the removal of the statute of limitations for rape. I testified two years ago in front of this committee when the bill first made it to the hearing agenda. The bill made it to the floor that year, and last year as well, but it didn't pass. It will take several tries, but I do believe it will happen eventually. Maybe this will be the year, who knows. I ask that you let your representatives know how important it is to remove this antique obstacle to justice. Use your voice, call them, write them, so that if it makes it to the floor your voice will be in their ears when they vote. Below is the content of that letter.
Thursday March 4, 2021
To: The Minnesota State Legislature
From: Laura Stearns,
Actress, MN Theater Accountability Coalition Administrator, Children’s Theater Alumni Wellness Fund Board of Directors, Sexual Violence Prevention Advocate, and survivor of childhood sexual violence
Re: Removing the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Violence
Dear Members of the Public Safety Committee,
Statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before the age of eighteen. I did the math, and figured out that there are approximately 1.4 billion victims of childhood sexual assault walking around on the planet today, give or take a million. Children in Minnesota are part of this grim landscape of abuse. I was one of them. This is not a small problem. It’s a pandemic of harm.
In 2015, I exposed the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) for a legacy of childhood sexual abuse by coming forward against Jason McLean (former CTC actor and restaurateur) for raping me when I was a student and child actor at the theater in 1983. I chose to take this stand and break my silence not only for myself, but because I knew there were other perpetrators and a lot more victims. The MN Child Victims Act gave me a legal platform to expose McLean, but because of the statute of limitations the only legal recourse I had was in civil court. The other victims of McLean and I were victorious with our civil court cases, and he was adjudicated as guilty. He now has over 8 million dollars in judgments against him. But because of the way the laws are written, these judgments will likely never be paid. He was allowed to sell all of his assets and flee the country. Jason McLean is a serial child rapist, a criminal. He is a menace to society and should be in jail, not just have obstacles with his finances. Justice will never be served because his assets are safely out of the country and the statute of limitations doesn’t allow the victims of his abuse to press criminal charges.
Shame and fear accompany sexual violence, and they silence the victim. For children it can be even worse because of the sexual grooming techniques that pedophiles use to manipulate them. Victims are made to believe that they chose the abuse. I was almost 30 years old before I was even able to talk about what happened to me in a therapeutic setting. It wasn’t until a full twenty five years after I was raped by McLean, when my own children were the age I was when I was raped, that I began to truly understand how it had affected my entire life, from PTSD to an inability to have healthy intimate relationships. It literally took decades for me to be able to take legal action.
After the scandal at CTC became public back in 1984, The MN State Legislature changed the age requirement for statutory rape from sixteen to eighteen for cases in which the perpetrator is in a position of power over the victim, such as a teacher or a coach. This was a hugely important piece of legislation in the effort to protect children.
Also, there were two teachers who were charged with failure to report what they knew about abuses that were occurring at CTC. Their lawyers were able to successfully argue that the language of the Mandated Reporting Law was too vague, and the charges were dropped, freeing them from the consequences of their inaction. Those cases were the first time the Mandated Reporting law was argued in court. As a result of the outcome, the legislature again rose to the occasion, recognized the need, and they changed the language of the Mandated Reporting Law to make it more specific and robust.
Today, you have an opportunity once again to use what happened at CTC as a guide. The Statute of Limitations needs to be removed entirely from our state law. It is well documented that children who suffer from sexual violence often take decades to come to terms with what happened to them. You have the chance to change the lives of the victims of today and tomorrow. Changing the statute won’t help me, but it can help them. Healing from sexual violence doesn’t follow a timeline. Show rape victims that they matter by removing this restrictive legal timeline that doesn’t match their healing process. Show these criminals that they no longer have this antiquated statute of limitations to protect them.
The statute of limitations for sexual crimes favors child rapists and punishes child victims. If you think the things like what happened at CTC are a thing of the past, think again. My own experience has led me to advocate for victims of sexual violence, I’m in conversations daily about it. I can tell you unequivocally that these kinds of crimes against children are happening today, right now, in other organizations around the state. Wherever children are gathered, so too are those that would prey upon them. These crimes strike the very core of our humanity. We need to do everything we can to protect children from these criminals, and make it possible for them to expose their abuser no matter when the crime happens.
Thank you for your consideration in this important matter.