If it feels like you’ve heard Virginia Lewis’ story on NonDoc before, it’s because you have. What you may not have heard is Rep. Kevin McDugle’s.
McDugle (R-Broken Arrow) met Lewis a little more than a month ago as the Tulsa-based victims’ rights advocate was gathering support for HB 1468 and HB 1470, both of which passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously Monday. They now head to the Senate, where a similar measure was denied a hearing last year.
Lewis said that when she met McDugle he immediately offered strong support for the bills (embedded below), which would extend both the criminal and civil statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse until the 45th birthday of the alleged victim.
Then, when Lewis emailed McDugle a letter to review before sending it to all House members, the former Marine offered an emotional edit.
“He wrote back and said, ‘It looks great, how about this addition?'” Lewis recalled.
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What McDugle had suggested was a paragraph disclosing his own sexual abuse as a teenager in rural Oklahoma.
“I was floored,” Lewis said. “I was absolutely stunned. There’s an additional stigma for men. He displayed undaunted courage, and I admire him greatly for it.”
At a press conference today in support of the measures, McDugle took to the podium after Lewis and said he feels the same of her.
“God bless you. Your work is paying off,” he said, surrounded by other abuse survivors. “There’s been a few times in my life that I’ve been able to stand in the midst of heroes, and I feel like I am doing that today.”
‘How do you deal with it?’
McDugle spoke to NonDoc after Tuesday’s press conference, detailing the sexual abuse he endured from a minister who ran “the largest youth group in the area.”
“I thought that I might have been the only one until yesterday when a guy called me and mentioned this individual’s name. He said, ‘Oh yeah, he was always having boys come over’,” McDugle said. “So I’m learning too as this process goes through.”
The first-term state representative said he was somewhere between 13 and 15 when the minister first abused him.
“I knew it happened. I never forgot it. I’ve had some people say these ‘repressed memories’ and all that kind of stuff, but I guarantee you that if somebody walks into your house and touches your private parts, you don’t forget it, right?” McDugle said. “But with that comes, ‘How do you deal with it?’ How do you tell other people? How do you communicate that? Was I man enough? Was it something I did wrong? All those thoughts go through your head. And so I was probably 42 or 43 years old when I finally thought, ‘You know what, I wasn’t the one in the wrong here. Somebody else was in the wrong.’ It took me that long to process it.”
McDugle, now 50, would not be able to request charges against his abuser under the new laws should they pass and take effect Nov. 1. But someone five years younger would be able.
“We have to continue to push hard to let these perpetrators know that we are going to come after them,” he said during the press conference. “Hopefully we’ve got strong momentum this year.”
‘I knew this bill needed to pass’
Whether HB 1468 and HB 1470 make it through the Senate this year will largely depend on public awareness and pressure on the issue, as well as the legislative chops of Sen. David Holt (R-OKC), a candidate for Oklahoma City mayor and the Senate author on the bills.
“I was not the author last year,” Holt said when asked what happened in 2016 in the upper chamber. “I understand there was some objection from the committee chairman to which it was assigned in the (Senate) Judiciary (Committee).”
McDugle said amendments added to HB 1468 could quell those objections this year.
“I think that one of the biggest push backs we got last year and again this year is that there will be false allegations made for the benefit of some individual,” McDugle said.
But HB 1468 now notes that anyone found to have made a false allegation could face a felony charge.
The bills’ original author, Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa), said she hoped the bills would be given a fair hearing in the Senate. She said Tulsa District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler had asked her to consider carrying the legislation if she were elected last year.
“It became very evident that Oklahoma was very far behind on several issues that deal with child abuse, child sexual abuse and neglect,” Bush said at the press conference. “I look forward to working with the Senate side to make sure both of these bills become law and we can provide some of the necessary healing that these survivors need.”
McDugle and Lewis said it was Bush who had introduced them in the hallway several weeks earlier.
“She told me her story, and I’ve not shared my story but with a handful of people in my life, and never with full detail,” McDugle said. “So it wasn’t something I planned. It’s something I felt like I needed to do when I knew this bill needed to pass.”
He said the support he has received over the past two days has been enormous.
“It’s amazing how many texts, how many Facebook messages I’m getting from people all over the world right now from people who have been abused and victimized and who are telling me their story,” McDugle said, before emphasizing how common child sexual abuse is.
He said he is keeping track of his own abuser.
“The individual I had to deal with is working in a church again, right?” McDugle said. “So I’ve got a legal team that’s going to reach out and they’ll be notified.”