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Plainfield Woman’s Suit Challenges Law On Incest

April 8, 1986

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ A hearing next week on a woman’s sexual abuse suit against her father could pave the way for other victims who waited years to file such charges because of the trauma involved.

Monday’s hearing on the $600,000 suit filed by Jeanne Allyn will lead to a determination whether the statute of limitations can be used as a defense in some incest cases.

Allyn, 33, of Plainfield, claims her father sexually abused her from the time she was a baby until the age of 12. However, she waited until last year to bring charges in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., against Franklin Smith, of Clarence Center, N.Y. The statute of limitations requires that a victim of sexual assault file a complaint within a year of turning 18.

The importance of the case is in challenging the statute of limitations and in getting the court to recognize that victims of child sexual abuse may not be able to cope with the trauma of abuse and press charges until they are mature, said Allyn’s attorney, Alan Rosenfeld.

Allyn could not begin legal action until she could cope with her memories, Rosenfeld said.

″When they (victims) bring the action, they are going to re-experience the physical abuse,″ he said. Allyn’s deposition last month, which may later be admitted as evidence against her father, evoked memories of events she didn’t know happened, Rosenfeld said.

″When the memories get triggered, she actually feels them as if they just happened,″ he said. ″Jeanne very barely survived it.″

The judge wants to decide the matters of law and evidence separately to avoid ″a big theatre in his courtroom,″ Rosenfeld said, adding that he anticipates a ruling within a few months.

If the judge agrees that the psychological impact could have prevented Allyn from filing charges sooner, proving the charges will not be difficult, Rosenfeld said. Allyn’s father confessed touching his daughter when a complaint was filed against him in 1963 in Tonawanda, N.Y., but he was never prosecuted, he said.

If the judge rules in favor of Allyn’s father by upholding the statute of limitations, Rosenfeld said, Allyn will appeal the decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

If the judge rules in Allyn’s favor, she may pursue the case or accept a generous cash settlement that has already been offered, Rosenfeld said.

″The only reason we can’t and won’t accept the cash offer (now) is that we want to change the law,″ he said.

Judith Hermann, author of Father-Daughter Incest and a psychiatrist with the Women’s Health Collective in Somerville, Mass., says victims may suppress memories of abuse for years, depending on the severity and duration of abuse.

″I would imagine that first of all her memories were much more impaired,″ Herman said in a deposition, ″and that second of all, that even if she did remember, (it) was so overwhelming to her that she could not take any effective action to disclose or protect herself.″

Allyn’s memories of abuse have been returning slowly, triggered by seemingly unimportant events. Until a call last summer from a childhood friend whom Rosenfeld said also was abused by Allyn’s father, she had perceived her father’s sexual advances as ″gentle but loving.″

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