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Our Legal System is Failing Sexual Assault Victims

Pastor Brian Williams’ pattern of sexual violence against teenage girls was glaring to anyone that knew the facts.

When the mother of teenager April Jokela complained that the Ohio pastor had attempted to reach his hand into April’s pants in the early 1990s, church officials asked her to “keep this quiet to protect our brother.”

When another teenager came forward in the early 2000s to report that Pastor Williams told her “he could probably get away with having sex with me right then and there in his office,” she too was ignored.

In fact, Pastor Williams was rewarded for his behavior.

In 2004, he was promoted to the senior pastor position at Sunbury Grace Brethren Church. He must have felt that there would never be repercussions for his behavior, because in 2008, Pastor Williams forced 15-year-old Jessica Simpkins to have oral and vaginal sex with him during a counseling session in his office.

He pleaded guilty to 2 counts of sexual battery and was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

However, while Pastor Williams was held accountable for his actions, the church that ignored the warning signs and the complaints of young girls and their families was not.

Jessica filed a lawsuit against the church for enabling Pastor Williams’ behavior, and was awarded $3.6 million by the jury as compensation for the depression and PTSD that she suffered and continues to suffer because of the incident.

This was in Ohio, however, where non-economic damages, which accounted for most of Jessica’s compensation, are capped arbitrarily at $250,000. Many states maintain “pain and suffering” caps, which protect negligent corporations and insurance companies from ever having to pay out too much in compensation to a wronged victim, regardless of what the jury decides.

In Ohio, there is an exception made for victims with “permanent and substantial physical deformity, loss of use of a limb, or loss of a bodily organ system,” for which Jessica does not qualify. “Just because I didn’t lose a limb and because I can carry on a life, they’re saying it basically doesn’t affect me,” said Jessica.

The man that raped Jessica will be released from prison this summer, and still she seeks justice in the courts. She is now working with her attorney to have the state of Ohio declare damages caps unconstitutional in cases of sexual abuse against minors.

Our Founding Fathers guaranteed every individual the right to a jury trial. We count on juries to make some of our most important judicial decisions, including in federal death penalty cases, the power to choose between life and death.

How then can it be right for a state legislature to override a jury’s decision with an arbitrary cap?

Sources: Caplan-Bricker, Nora, “Directly Accountable,” Slate, 28 March 2016.

Hart, Ted, “Ohio court case seeks to increase amount of money child sex abuse victims can receive,” NBC4i, 9 December 2015.

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