The West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services recently graced Senator Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell) the 2020 Vistionary Voice Award for his work on behalf of child sexual abuse victims. He received the award in Charleston this past March, 2020. Foundation State Coordinator Nancy Hoffman, Sexual Assault Help Center Executive Director Ashley Carpenter, and Executive Director for HOPE Michele McCord were there to present.

Senator Woelfel said, “West Virginia is leading the country in our respect for, and treatment of our victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.”

Hoffman added, “This is not a topic that people want to talk about, but one that unfortunately will impact 1 in 6 women in our state and a significant number of men as well. We are so fortunate in West Virginia to have a legislature in recent years that has recognized sexual assault as the public health crisis that it is, and to have the foresight of leaders like Senator Woelfel in drafting legislation and policies to both address sexual violence and help prevent it.”

The timing was important as well, because new cases are taking the spotlight. Clendenin resident Billie Gene Seabolt, 65, was recently arrested on 312 counts of incest, one count of sexual abuse by a custodian or guardian, and one count of first-degree sexual assault. The abuse of the juvenile took place over a six-year period.

Stories like these aren’t common, but more and more victims are coming forward to share their stories. This has given rise to a national conversation on statutes of rights limitations for child sexual abuse victims, who often only come forward once they reach adulthood. Many states have laws that close the door on civil suits soon after these individuals reach their 18th or 21st birthday, which lawmakers are starting to acknowledge isn’t enough time to tell a story or make a case.

New measures to respond to and prevent clergy abuse are in the process of being legislated in North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. The problem is, clergy figures often have special privileges that allow them to squash private allegations of abuse — which keeps the subject far away from the public’s prying eyes. Church groups say these privileges are fair, and necessary to protect congregant privacy.

But victims of childhood sexual abuse say enough is enough.

Wisconsin Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said he supported new DOJ investigative efforts aimed at uncovering old abuses. He explained, “This is entirely too late for us to start this process, but it is not too late to help finish it. This is hopefully the beginning that will allow survivors and victims to help heal their trauma.”

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) leader Peter Isely said, “This is a great day for survivors. We as survivors have a public duty and responsibility to let law enforcement know in a safe and confidential way what happened to you…we need witnesses.”

West Virginia Senator Receives 2020 Visionary Voice Award