9 Investigates: The new push to help sexual assault victims in NC seek civil justice

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The injuries victims of sexual abuse suffer go far beyond physical trauma, and it can take years for some victims to come forward.

For many victims seeking justice it's too late, but several lawmakers said they are trying to change that.

Katie Trout allowed Channel 9 into her home to speak openly for the first time about the sexual abuse she suffered, as a teen, in a place she trusted.

"This is not something you come out with overnight," said Trout.

Trout said her family was very involved at Calvary Church, one of Charlotte's largest churches. She even said she joined the church's drama group at 15.

She provided photos to Channel 9 and said how James Baker, a church employee who volunteered with the group, paid her attention that turned to abuse.

She said the contact started with a piggyback ride.

"I think he was doing that to make it seem like the time together or any sort of physical contact was not anything people needed to be questioning," said Trout.  "Then, he just started sexually abusing me regularly."

She said the abuse frequently happened on the church campus and she feared being alone with Baker.

"The abuse was escalating and I knew it was going to keep getting worse," said Trout.

Trout said she eventually reported Baker to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

In 2005, he was convicted of indecent liberty with a minor, served 36 months probation and is now a registered sex offender.

Trout said to Channel 9 at the time that she didn't consider taking civil action.

"I was just trying to survive and get through that whole year," she said.  "I never considered suing him or the church was an option."

After years of therapy, Trout said she felt ready to fight for justice through a civil case, but it was too late.

In North Carolina, adult victims of sexual abuse have three years from the event to file a civil lawsuit.

If the abuse happened during childhood, the victim has until age 21.

"I get a weekly reminder of how it's not enough when I get to pay for therapy out of pocket," said Trout. "That's really infuriating to me."

Gaston County Rep. John Torbett said he wants to change that law.

Torbett co-sponsored House Bill 37, which would extend the statute of limitations until a victim is 45 years old.

Psychologist Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea said she specializes in trauma.

She told Channel 9 this bill would give many victims more time to acknowledge the abuse and become strong enough for a court battle against their abusers and even against their employers or organizations where it happened.

"Institutions are now on notice that if their teachers, priests, if their boy scout leaders, camp counselors, doctors are abusing kids, they better do something about it," said Frawley-O'Dea.

Leaders at Calvary Church provided Channel 9 with a statement.

"The case in question occurred before the tenure of our current leadership and pastoral staff. However, we understand following the incident Katie and her family were counseled on continuing basis by one of the pastors then on staff. Since that time, Calvary has maintained an ongoing dialogue with Katie, most recently meeting with her in 2016 to discuss her ideas related to ministry opportunities for those who have suffered abuse."

"Calvary is fully committed to providing a safe and nurturing spiritual home for members and attenders of all ages and backgrounds. Background checks are required for all staff and volunteers serving with children and students, with added oversight and interviews for those interacting with students and children by pastors and/or ministry leaders."

"We’re thankful that Katie has shared her experience as it has allowed us to have a heightened sensitivity to the needs of survivors of abuse, and we continue to monitor our staff policies and ministry programs for the protection of all those at Calvary."

Trout said the congregation was never told about her abuse, but at age 34, she said she’ll never forget.

She still struggles with nightmares and flashbacks but said this bill gives her hope for herself and all victims.

"They need as much time as possible to be able to get themselves to a good place to come forward and do something with their case," said Trout.

James Baker's attorney said Baker accepted responsibility and expressed great remorse.

He also said Baker paid restitution to Trout during the length of his probation, which was 36 months.

The North Carolina Judiciary Committee is currently examining House Bill 37.

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