Child sex abuse survivor speaks out to help others
Public talk comes amid calls for legislation passage
BEDFORD — A self-identified survivor of alleged child sexual abuse shared his story Monday to a packed room, describing his outspokenness as a way to help others.
Tommy Williams, 15, told the crowd at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort that the sexual assault, which reportedly spanned two years, began when he was 8 years old. His attacker was also a juvenile.
“I help other victims find a voice and let them know that someone will listen,” Tommy told the crowd.
His speaker series event, hosted by the nonprofit Tommy Talks PA founded by his mother, comes in the midst of the #MeToo nationwide movement and state legislative changes and hoped-for changes.
Tommy’s mother, Kelly, said the speaker series is intended to give all survivors a voice and to offer information and resources to those affected by sexual abuse.
“The biggest thing is bringing everyone to the table,” Kelly said. “Our goal with this is not to just get Tommy’s story out there.”
“It’s more about inclusion of all victims and survivors and their families,” she added. “Because the biggest thing about this all is support.” Kelly stressed the mission of Tommy Talks PA is to provide support to everyone affected by sexual abuse.
A few audience members applauded Tommy for speaking out and coming forward, including Patricia Lynn Brown, who said she is a co-founder of a local child abuse task force.
“I want to applaud you. You are an amazing young man,” she told Tommy while tearing up. “There’s been child abuse in my own family. And you, 15 years old, you’re going to have a good life because you have a strength in you. You have a power in you. You will persevere. And you will win.”
Representatives from various victim advocacy centers and other entities in attendance also spoke at the event, educating attendees on local resources and pending legislation.
Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts told attendees that Bedford County like others in the state are required to have a multidisciplinary investigative team that handles unresolved cases.
Paul Lukach, Crime Victim Center of Erie County executive director, urged attendees to speak to their local legislators to pass Senate Bill 261, which includes an amendment to establish a two-year window for now-adult victims of child sexual abuse to file civil claims against their alleged abusers.
Jennifer Riley, state director for Marsy’s Law, urged the passage of Marsy’s Law — legislation that calls for amending the state constitution to offer protections to crime victims.
Riley said the law would give victims the ability to petition the court to be heard and notified of court proceedings involving the accused.
Under the proposal, if a victim was not notified about the accused’s sentencing hearing and unable to testify, the victim could petition the court to testify and a judge could then decide if a resentencing could occur, said Riley.
“We’re not creating new rights for victims. We’re just simply elevating what we have,” Riley said, noting that victims have a statutory right to be heard and notified, but not a constitutional right.
Riley said the law passed the House and Senate this legislative session, but it will need to pass a second legislative session in 2019 before going to voters.
While a decision is yet to be made on SB 261 and Marsy’s Law, Tommy’s speech Monday follows the passage of the Safe Harbor law, which takes effect next month and prohibits the prosecution of child victims of trafficking.
According to documents shown to the Mirror, Tommy’s alleged attacker was adjudicated on multiple felony charges of rape and statutory sexual assault.
Two of the felony rape charges apply to Tommy’s case, while the other counts stem from two other cases involving different victims, the Mirror was told.
Under the Juvenile Act, if a child is 14 years or older and charged with a felony, the public has access to certain information including the name and age of the juvenile, address of the juvenile, offenses charged and disposition of the case.
Although Tommy told the crowd he experienced depression due to the abuse, he said he loves and prays for his alleged attacker to get better. He also thanked those who have showed him support on his journey.
Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.