News Briefs

Survivor says sex crimes report shows Kansas must do more to fight abusers

By: - October 30, 2023 1:30 pm
Child sex abuse survivors (from left) Tess Ramirez, Joe Cheray, Lesa Patterson-Kinsey and Kim Bergman appear at their advocacy table March 21, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka

Child sex abuse survivors (from left) Tess Ramirez, Joe Cheray, Lesa Patterson-Kinsey and Kim Bergman appear at their advocacy table March 21, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse who successfully advocated for legislative action earlier this year says newly released crime statistics show more work is needed to protect Kansas children from predators.

Kim Bergman and other survivors demonstrated at the Statehouse for weeks, meeting with lawmakers and educating the public about the prevalence and impact of childhood sexual abuse. The Legislature responded by lifting the statute of limitations for criminal charges and expanding the window to file civil lawsuits.

Under the new law, anyone who was younger than 21 as of July 1 can seek judicial relief before they turn 31. But the average survivor of childhood sexual assault doesn’t report a crime until the age of 52.

Bergman said she and other survivors plan to propose legislation in the upcoming session to remove the statute of limitation for civil cases. She pointed to the “frightening statistics” in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s report on domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault in 2022.

At least 1,851 Kansas children and teenagers were raped, sodomized or sexually battered last year, according to the KBI report.

“We need to make Kansans aware that child predators exist in our communities,” Bergman said. “Predators who sexually abuse children do not stop until they are held accountable. One way to do this is by allowing survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against their perpetrators so that these predators can be made known and parents can protect their children.”

The idea has met resistance in the past from the Catholic Church, institutions that work with children and liability insurance groups.

Because many survivors are reluctant to report their crimes, Bergman said, the actual numbers are much higher than reported. The KBI report acknowledges the data is limited.

“This report does not claim to represent all domestic violence incidents, stalking offenses or sexually violent incidents committed throughout the state of Kansas,” the report said.

The data reflects the crimes reported to law enforcement agencies, and is dependent upon those agencies submitting reports to the KBI. Some agencies submitted incomplete or no data, the KBI report said.

“This report is intended to assist agencies in strengthening the criminal justice system, which holds offenders accountable for their actions and provides resources to help respond to these crimes,” the report said.

Based on reported cases, survivors of sexual abuse are most often women and girls younger than 25 who know their attacker. The crimes happen on average every three or hours, every day of the week, but most frequently between midnight and 2 a.m.

The attacks happen most often in a residence, but also at school, in a hospital, at a hotel, in a bar, on a rural road, in a parking garage or dozens of other settings.

The attackers are acquaintances, family members, boyfriends, friends, roommates, neighbors, co-workers and strangers.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.