Olympic gymnast shares story of childhood sexual abuse, urges changes in Kansas law

Advocates say it’s time to pass much-needed reform for sexual abuse survivors

By: - February 10, 2023 10:16 am
Olympic gymnast Terin Humphrey talks to reporters on the Senate floor

Olympic gymnast Terin Humphrey speaks in support of reforms to current law on childhood sexual abuse cases. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Olympic gymnast and Missouri native Terin Humphrey says it is time to support sexual abuse survivors by passing legislation that would remove the statute of limitations for civil and criminal cases.

Humphrey appeared Thursday in the Senate chamber to receive a tribute from lawmakers and champion reform legislation.

“I think it’s crazy that it hasn’t passed yet, that it’s taken this long,” Humphrey said in an interview. “I’m excited that it’s finally being heard.”

The legislation in question — House Bill 2169 and Senate Bill 95, are companion bills — would remove the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal cases, and allow for retroactive litigation for abuse dating to 1984.

Kansas state law currently requires survivors to file a civil lawsuit by age 21. The Legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for criminal cases in 2013, but didn’t make the law retroactive.

Humphrey said many people don’t realize that Kansas law is so limiting, or realize how long it takes to come to terms with abuse. Most childhood sexual abuse victims don’t share their experiences until age 50 or older.

“They’re not ready,” Humphrey said. “I was 30 before I came out, and sometimes I’m not even ready. I’ve experienced the biggest stage in the world and I’m still hesitant to come out and talk about it, so I want them to understand that you’re just not mentally ready at that age.”

Humphrey won two silver medals in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens and was a member of the U.S. National Gymnastics team for six seasons.

In 2020, she disclosed she was abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar was sentenced to decades in prison following allegations of abuse from hundreds of young women.

While similar legislation failed to advance during past legislative sessions, supporters of the bill hope this year will be different. Survivors and advocates have been returning to the Capitol week after week to champion the legislation, occupying a table in the Statehouse entrance hallway to raise awareness. Several of the women have shared their own stories of abuse

“This year it’s gotten the most momentum ever, and so we’re hopeful, but it’s hard,” said survivor Lesa Patterson-Kinsey. “We keep seeing people introduce bills, and the next week, it gets a hearing, it gets a vote. We’ve had it here since the second week of the session and we’re ready for a discussion.”

Sen. Cindy Holscher, a Democrat from Overland Park, said with the release of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation report on clergy abuse, people were more aware of the necessity of the legislation. Holscher said efforts to pass the bill might have failed in the past, but she believed lawmakers were now more educated.

“It’s a complex issue in the respect that we’re talking about something that people normally don’t talk about,” Holscher said. “I feel like we’ve had to do a lot of catching up to get people educated and talk about something that normally the instinct is to hide.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.