Pioneer Press: You can’t get more red-blooded American macho than Al Chesley. Now 55, he is still — at 6 feet 3 inches and at least 250 pounds — a bear of a man, a former NFL middle linebacker nicknamed “Mad Dog” who played on a Philadelphia Eagles team that went to the Super Bowl.
But at age 13, he was but a child — putty in the hands of a larger-than-life and revered neighborhood police officer who loosened him up with booze, showed him porn flicks, then molested and raped him for nearly five years.
“He told me that he wanted to teach me how to become a man — how ironic,” Chesley said this week about his childhood molestation. It took him more than three decades to overcome the guilt and shame to brave speaking about his victimization.
“I thought I would go to my grave (without coming forward),” he said. “Any kind of abuse is horrible. But when a man abuses a boy, I think it’s just extra horrible. It screws you up as a man. It kills your spirit.”
Chesley, a native of Washington, D.C., will share his experience Thursday morning, Feb. 28, when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a bill that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse.
FEAR OF STALE CLAIMS
Under current state law, a child sex-abuse victim has up to age 24 to file a lawsuit after he or she turns 18, if not before. The proposed legislation would retain the six-year limit to file a civil action for victims who were sexually abused at the age
of 18 or older. But it would wipe out any limits for someone who was similarly abused before he or she turned 18.
If it passes, Minnesota would become the fifth state in recent years to wipe out limitations on the civil end. The move to eliminate limitations has fallen short before. That could change this year, given a DFL-controlled Legislature and some bipartisan support for the bill.
Those opposed to such changes, locally and nationally, have included school associations, church and child care groups and other entities that deal with children in some manner. The basic argument — successful here so far — is that eliminating limitations will open the floodgates for frivolous suits, and that it will become a bonanza for lawyers and an economic burden for entities as well as for taxpayers who may end up footing the bill for damages.
“The Minnesota Religious Council and its member churches recognize the damage done by clergy and other church professionals who have violated the tenets of our faith and failed to live up to the high ethical standards of behavior to which they have been called,” said Karen Bockelman, the council’s chairwoman and a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Bockelman plans to testify on behalf of the council, which includes the Episcopal and Roman Catholic dioceses of Minnesota. She finds the proposed change “problematic” and raised concerns that it will expose entities to “liabilities decades after the perpetrator of the abuse was dead.”
“With such old claims, it is very difficult to get a clear picture of the facts — memories have faded, records may be difficult to locate or have disappeared entirely, witnesses may have moved or died,” Bockelman added in an email.
She also noted that such legislation may adversely affect a church’s ability to provide youth-related services.
“The elimination of a statute of limitations puts this mission at risk, causing some churches to severely limit their work with children and youth and/or diverting financial resources from mission to defense,” Bockelman added.
Marci Hamilton, an advocate for reform of statutes of limitations and the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, has a significantly different take.
“Pedophiles thrive when they can operate in secret, and they enjoy expired” statutes of limitations, Hamilton wrote in an email. “The system perversely protects pedophiles but not children.”
She added that the year California temporarily suspended limitations, roughly 1,000 childhood sex-abuse victims filed lawsuits. It “led to the identification of 300 previously unidentified pedophiles.”
Hamilton maintains that “diocesan bankruptcies have been voluntary, not because the diocese was broke.”
“They are about asset and secret protection, not (indigence),” she added. “In fact, settlements have been paid with half insurance proceeds and half sales of property unrelated to religious mission.”
SAVED BY TUBBY SMITH
Chesley’s escapes through his years of victimization were annual Boys Club recreation sports summer camps. There he met a counselor who was the opposite of his predator, a nurturing, positive role model “who took me under his wing,” he recalled this week. That man was Tubby Smith, now basketball coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
One of 10 children, Chesley put the abuse in a corner of his mind and soul and excelled on the football gridiron through high school and at the University of Pittsburgh. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1979 and played in Super Bowl XV. Current Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier was a close teammate when Chesley later played briefly for the Chicago Bears.
Memories of the abuse rushed back after he left football and founded a moving company, which he still operates. Like most victims, he blamed himself for allowing the abuse and being complicit because he accepted gifts from his predator. He began a downward spiral, self-medicating on alcohol and drugs until they became addictions.
He came forward publicly after he attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and met other child sex-abuse victims.
He believes his predator died a while back and doubts he was ever found out.
He attended the trial last year of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky as a show of support for the former child victims who took the witness stand to recount their abuse. He has traveled so far, he says, “on my own time and dime” to Delaware, Maryland, Arizona and Virginia to testify on behalf of the proposed Child Victims Act. Minnesota’s the latest stop.
It’s time, he says, to reform existing laws.
“Look, I’m not suing anybody and I don’t care about money,” he said. “But I’m a prime example that this really sinks in decades later.
“Murder has no statute of limitations,” he added. “But I would argue this is also another form of murder. This murders a child over a lifetime. It kills his spirit.”
Ruben Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or rrosario@ pioneerpress.com. Follow him on twitter at @nycrican.