Jennifer Goetz | Justice out of reach without window for statute of limitations | Editorials

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In the mid-1980s, as a young child, I was sexually abused by a serial pedophile, Johnstown pediatrician Dr. Jack Barto.

I went to his office for strep throat. Barto told my mom that he needed to do a vaginal exam to check for a yeast infection. He convinced my mother to leave the exam room so I would not be embarrassed. He was the doctor, my mother trusted him, so she left the room. Barto then sexually abused me. 

When he was done, I left the room and met my mother out in the hallway. I told her, “He hurt me.”

In 1998, three families courageously came forward to report that their children had been sexually abused by Barto. Instead of supporting these child victims, as I watched in horror, the Johnstown community rallied around the “good doctor.” Ribbons of support were passed out at football games. Some of his victims were forced to wear those ribbons. Johnstown made it loud and clear whom they believed, and it was not the child victims. So, I remained silent.

In 2018, Barto was arrested for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl during an office visit. That girl and her family had enough courage to report to the police that I decided that I needed to, too. I knew that it would likely be too late for Barto to be charged for my abuse, but I wanted to give credibility to this brave young girl.

I am now 43 years old. 

From the outside, I look like everyone else. I am a health care professional, I’ve been married to the same man for nearly 20 years, and we have a beautiful daughter.

But what you don’t see is that, on the inside, I am damaged and have been ever since the day I was sexually abused by Barto. I’ve suffered from severe depression and low self-esteem, and I currently suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Some mornings, I wake up drenched in sweat because of the nightmares.

I was in the courtroom for Barto’s criminal sentencing. I got to listen as, one by one, brave survivors gave victim impact statements and address Barto directly. I was not afforded that opportunity because I was not a victim with formal charges.

While I’m glad he was sentenced to a maximum of 158 years in prison and can never harm another child, there was no justice for me and the many others whose statute of limitations timed out due to Pennsylvania’s antiquated laws.

In order for Barto to have been charged with my sexual abuse, I would have had to come forward while I was just 14 years old. Still a child.

Barto admitted during his sexual offender assessment that he went into pediatrics so he would have access to children. He admitted that he first started abusing his young patients when he got his medical license. Just two days before he was arrested in January 2018, he sexually assaulted three children (that we know of.) Three children. One day. After 44 years as a pediatrician. If Barto worked 48 weeks per year just four days a week, he could have abused more than 25,000 victims.

Studies have shown that the average age a victim of child sexual abuse comes forward is 52 years old, if ever. By age 52, both criminal and civil law deny the survivor access to the courts and therefore to justice.

Barto, like physician pedophiles Larry Nassar in Michigan and Earl Bradley in Delaware, abused children for decades. These men used their power, authority and reputations to keep victims silent. Barto sang in the church choir, volunteered to coach sports teams and was a member of the school board. 

Nassar was running for school board upon his arrest.

There is only one right thing for Pennsylvania lawmakers to do: Pass Senate Bill 540, which allows survivors a retroactive window in which to hold their abusers – and the institutions who enabled them – accountable. They say it takes a village to raise a family. It also takes a village for a pedophile to abuse children for over 40 years.

It was only because Delaware lawmakers did the right thing – eliminating civil and criminal statutes of limitations and opening a two-year window for past victims to bring cases – that Bradley was stopped. Pennsylvania survivors deserve the same access to the courts.

My great friend and fellow survivor once described our lives as survivors as being a 1,000-piece puzzle. We work so hard to put the pieces together, only to discover that one piece is missing.

Justice.

The Pennsylvania Legislature has the power to give us that missing piece so we can complete our puzzles. Will it?

Jennifer Goetz testified Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Senate judiciary committee hearing on the issue of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse.



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