Shattuck victim joins push to change Minn. sex abuse law

Shattuck-St. Mary's School
This photo taken Oct. 10, 2012, shows the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary's School, a private college preparatory school in Faribault, Minn.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

A Minnesota man who came forward with sexual abuse allegations against a former Shattuck-St. Mary's School teacher stemming from a 1980 incident has joined the push to amend state law to give victims more time to file lawsuits against their perpetrators.

The charges against former teacher Joe Machlitt were dismissed last week because Minnesota law doesn't allow cases dating that far back to be prosecuted. But a bill moving through the Legislature would give victims a larger window for filing civil lawsuits. The bill has been approved by House and Senate committees and awaits floor votes.

Joel Juers, of Cambridge, reported the criminal sexual conduct allegations against Machlitt to police last fall after another Shattuck-St. Mary's teacher, Lynn Seibel, was charged with sexual abuse involving six male students. Seibel remains in jail.

Juers said he felt defeated after the criminal case against Machlitt was dismissed.

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"Because of the statute of limitations issues in this case, he was just set free. He's not labeled as anything, he's not penalized in any way, he's just set free," Juers said Friday in an interview. "I, on the other hand, have to go back to my life feeling, again, as if the act had happened to me — re-victimized."

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Charges filed against Lynn Seibel: Read the complaint
Seibel was previously accused of misconduct
Police, school differ on whether abuse was reported
Faribault residents react to allegations
School profile: News reverberates far beyond elite campus
Former teachers claim alleged abuse was known, not reported
Victims silent until one was charged with abuse himself
Timeline of the Shattuck-St. Mary's case

Current state law requires victims of child sex abuse to file lawsuits before they turn 24. Juers didn't tell anyone about the alleged abused until 1995, when he was in his late 20s. He has since sought therapy, but has battled alcoholism and intimacy problems that he attributes to the abuse.

Juers said he hasn't decided whether he would pursue a lawsuit against Machlitt if the law is changed, but he said merely having the option would itself be empowering.

"Our societal values are reflected in the law, and so in this case society is validating the fact that I have been offended and have a right to my hurt and to seek retribution in some way," he said. Without the law change, "I only have the right to sit quietly in my pain, and that's all." If state lawmakers do give Juers a chance to sue, he said he wouldn't take the decision lightly. "Some of the things I'm weighing are forgiveness and grace," he said. "Do I forgive or seek justice? Will I suffer by making somebody else suffer?"

The Minnesota Religious Council, the Minnesota Child Care Association and the Minnesota School Boards Association oppose the bill to change the child sexual abuse statute of limitations. The groups have argued during Capitol hearings that the proposal would create financial risk for organizations and could drain them of resources that should be used instead on their core missions.

Juers dismissed the arguments.

"Some organizations are more concerned with their pocketbooks than they are for the rights of children or the protection of children," he said. "It's a moral issue that should unite us all."