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Advocates for childhood sexual abuse survivors push Ohio lawmakers for new bills

Survivor Paul Neyer holds a photo of himself as a boy, when he was raped when he was an altar boy at St. Jude in Cincinnati in the late 1980s. Father Geoff Drew pleaded guilty to nine counts of rape in 2021. Neyer signed off on the plea deal.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Survivor Paul Neyer holds a photo of himself as a boy, when he was raped when he was an altar boy at St. Jude in Cincinnati in the late 1980s. Father Geoff Drew pleaded guilty to nine counts of rape in 2021. Neyer signed off on the plea deal.

Advocates for Ohioans who have survived childhood sexual abuse are pushing for bills that they say would help survivors, protect kids, and prevent more victims. They’re hoping lawmakers will take action on several bills during the lame duck legislative session after next month’s election.

The advocates with Ohioans for Child Protection include survivors of childhood sexual abuse, such as Paul Neyer. He held up a photo of himself when he was in elementary school, at the age when he was sexually abused multiple times.

"That boy took 32 years to find his voice. I was about out of time. I'm thankful I narrowly made it through the small window of time," Neyer said. "I was able to hear my assailant say 'guilty' nine times."

The man who pleaded guilty to rape is Father Geoff Drew, who was sentenced to seven years in prison with that plea deal last year. Drew was the music minister at Neyer's private Catholic school, St. Jude in Cincinnati. Neyer came forward and reported the sexual abuse in 2019, and signed off on the plea deal.

The group also includes parents such as Rebecca Surendorff. She was a classmate of Neyer's, and her children attended St. Ignatius, Cincinnati’s largest Catholic grade school. She said not only did Father Drew, the school's pastor, admit to raping her classmate, but she found out he'd also been investigated for child sex crimes multiple times.

"We learned that this man had documented red flag behavior with minors through three decades in three Ohio counties. Yet, it was legal for him to run churches and schools in our state," Surendorff said.

She added, "Three generations of my family had child sex offenders working at their parochial schools. It began to dawn on me that this was not just the failure of one person, one school, or one church. This was a failure of state laws."

The abuse tracking group Child USA estimates 13% of Americans experience childhood sex abuse. That group gives Ohio an "F" for its child sexual abuse laws.

Surendorff said with so much recent talk about grooming, she’s shocked bills to protect kids haven’t moved forward.

“There's probably an average maybe 19,000 or so new victims every year, if you assume that this is evenly distributed and whatnot," Surendorff said. "Why are we accepting that all these children are being assaulted in our state?”

The group wants state lawmakers to eliminate the time limits on reporting and prosecuting child sex crimes. Forty-four states have eliminated the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse or revised them. Twenty-eight states have passed laws with "look back windows" that give more time for victims to report abuse in their past.

A bill that would do both of those things, HB266, was proposed by Reps. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) and Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) in April. It hasn't had a hearing.

The group is also calling for the Senate to pass HB105 or "Erin's Law," which would require age-appropriate school curriculum on child sexual abuse and violence. Erin Merryn has been advocating for the measure for seven years, and a version has been enacted in 37 states. The bill passed the House in June 2021 by a vote of 86-8.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.