RICHMOND, Va. – Wayne Dorough didn't come to Virginia's Capitol planning to get involved.
But 15 minutes into the debate on whether Virginia should extend the time alleged sex abuse victims have to file lawsuits against their attackers from two years to 25, prospects for the bill weren't looking good. Even the proposal's sponsor was ready to settle for 10 years — still more than most states.
Then the 67-year-old Dorough rose from his seat and asked to speak.
Legislators had just heard from two other alleged victims, yet there was something different about Dorough's impromptu speech.
Dressed in blue jeans and a light jacket in a room filled with the signature dark, tailored suits of lobbyists, he spoke with neither the finesse of a lobbyist or the other victims who had been well groomed on pleading for the bill.
Trembling, with sweat beads on his temples, Dorough talked in a halting voice of a dark place that still haunts him. Even though it was 8 p.m. on Thursday, and the meeting had slid into its fourth hour, everyone in the room hung on to Dorough's every word.
The only sound was the distant hum of a cleaning crew's vacuum.
"I'm an abused victim. It happened when I was 8 years old until I was 14," Dorough said.
He told the legislators about how windshield wipers moving back-and-forth in the rain remind him of a sheet being flung back and his alleged abuser jumping in bed beside him. The man was a close friend of Dorough's family.
For six years, Dorough said the man abused him every time he had the opportunity — at Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July.
"There's no way in the world I would go to my parents and tell them that I was abused," he said. He was afraid his father would have killed the man.
"Then I got married and started to raise a family. I didn't want it in my mind. I had a career and I didn't want to talk about it."
Not until he had grandchildren did he decide to do something. He had heard that those who are sexually abused as children end up abusing children themselves.
"All these things came into my mind and scared me to death," he said as his green eyes swelled with tears. "There's no way in the world I would want to be that way."
Subcommittee chairman Sen. John Edwards then spoke up.
"At what point would you have felt comfortable doing something — filing a suit or going to see a lawyer — in your life? At what age?" he said.
"I'm not comfortable with that now, to be honest with you," Dorough replied.
He went to police several years ago, but didn't press charges.
Edwards asked if Dorough had a repressed memory, a concern for the legislators. Virginia's current law says the statute of limitations runs either from the time of the abuse, or from when the accuser reaches 18 years old or the victim realizes they were abused.
Many child victims bury the memories and don't even know they were abused until something triggers it later in life, experts said. Legislators were worried such a substantial increase in the statute of limitations would allow lawsuits to be brought many decades later.
"I did not have a repressed memory," Dorough said. "I remembered it all along."
The Associated Press generally doesn't identify victims of sexual abuse, but Dorough agreed to publicly share his story. It was the first time outside of support groups that he had spoke about the abuse.
Although his alleged abuser wasn't a priest, he runs the group Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. It's open to all sexual abuse victims.
Dorough spoke barely more than three minutes, then Edwards surveyed the silent room.
"Why don't we make it 20?" Edwards offered, recognizing it would be difficult to push a 25-year extension through the General Assembly.
Without debate, the subcommittee voted 2-1 to recommend increasing the statute of limitations to 20 years. The full committee will hear the bill Monday.
When it was over, Dorough thanked the legislators, walked into the hallway and cried.
Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests: www.snapnetwork.org
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