Survivors say they won’t stand down after court tosses law on decades-old sex abuse
State lawmaker says she’s exploring potential next steps in both criminal and civil realms
SALT LAKE CITY — Colleagues and constituents saw one version of Jamie Nagle, a portrait of success. She was the first woman to lead Syracuse as its mayor and a longtime human resources executive.
But privately, Nagle could no longer fend off feelings that she was dirty, inadequate and deserving of the shame that followed years of childhood sexual abuse by a family member. She tried twice to take her own life.
“I felt like I couldn’t function anymore,” Nagle, 53, said Monday. She was among a half-dozen women who gathered at the Utah Capitol to condemn a recent Utah Supreme Court decision that threw out a 2016 state law providing a path for victims to sue an abuser decades later.
Like Nagle, many at the statehouse identified their perpetrators publicly for the first time. They promised to continue speaking out and to support a potential ballot initiative to reinstate the civil remedy, noting it often takes years for someone who was victimized as a child to confront what happened.
Nagle said therapy has allowed her to see the abuse she endured through a different lens, and she now feels compelled to speak up for others. Not all who are victimized have the chance to reach the same level of fulfillment in their careers, civic or family life, she said.
“I hope that by coming forward, it shows this impacts everyone,” she said.
Others recounted being manipulated and overpowered by a relative, stepfather or brother from a young age, only to have their own support network rally around their abusers. They urged faith leaders to support survivors and help hold aggressors to account.
Allison Leishman said she battled decades of trauma before finally feeling ready to report to police. But investigators in Centerville took down her report only to find the statute of limitation barred any criminal charges from being filed.
The 2016 law extended the window for civil cases. After the law passed, Terry Mitchell sued a federal judge, alleging he groomed and raped her in 1981 when she was a teenage witness and he an attorney prosecuting a white supremacist serial killer. Richard Roberts announced his retirement as chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia the same day Mitchell filed the lawsuit.
“When I came forward, I wasn’t trying to say, ‘Look at me, poor me.’ I was trying to make certain that there were no more future victims and that past victims might have a chance — a small chance — at being heard,” Mitchell said. “I am not going to be silent.”
Attorneys for Roberts argued the allegation was too old, and the case made its way to Utah’s high court, which ruled the law unconstitutional earlier this month. Their client acknowledged the two had sex but said it was consensual and began after the trial.
The justices found the Utah Legislature did not have the authority to effectively erase statutes of limitation after they already timed out. But the court noted Utah voters have the power to change the Utah Constitution.
One Utah lawmaker wants to help make that happen. Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she is taking early steps to explore other legislative measures or a constitutional amendment that she believes would draw widespread public support.
She noted the measure sponsored by former Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, faced little opposition before it passed. The law allowed a person to pursue civil action up to 35 years from their 18th birthday, instead of just four years.
“This bill was a way of saying ‘We believe you, we support you.’ So we’ll continue to work on making sure that we get there as a state,” Romero said.
Ivory agreed, calling the reversal “tragic.” He said he believes most of his former colleagues would like to see the amendment go before voters in a referendum but will continue to evaluate that.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office investigated Mitchell’s allegations but did not file criminal charges, citing the age of consent at the time was 16. The office has said Mitchell “was undoubtedly victimized” by the former judge and noted it filed a complaint and shared it with members of Utah’s congressional delegation to draw further scrutiny, but the complaint was tossed after Roberts left the bench.
A Lehi woman who requested her name be withheld said Mitchell’s case, while pending at the Utah Supreme Court, put on hold her own lawsuit against a man formerly married to her aunt. Now 55, she and her sister allege he abused them in the 1970s and early ’80s.
While their former relative has offered each woman $30,000 to settle the case, the payout would not be worth giving up the potential for a ruling in her favor, she said. However, it could be some time before any constitutional amendment takes effect, she noted, and she cannot afford to pay attorney fees for several more years.
Now she says she’s hoping the suit will be dismissed without prejudice, meaning she could file it again at some later date.
“I pray every day, but it always just goes in his favor,” she said.
Help is available:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Utah Domestic Violence LINKLine: 1-800-897-LINK (5465), udvc.org.
Utah Child Abuse/Neglect Intake Line: 1-855-323-3237, dcfs.utah.gov/services/child-protective-services.