Delegate C.T. Wilson stepped to the podium of a state Senate committee during a routine hearing, about to confess a secret.
He took a deep breath. “I don’t really, really want to be here,” he said. Wearing a gray suit, years removed from his daily nightmare, Wilson told the senators that as a child, his adoptive father repeatedly beat and then raped him. “I can’t describe to you the pain of being beaten, sodomized and molested for years,” he said. Between ages 9 and 15, “I went from a difficult life to a downright hell.”
The abuse at the hands of a man who died in 1999, Wilson said, made him an angry “monster” inside.
His bombshell testimony was in support of legislation to extend the statute of limitations on filing civil lawsuits in child sex abuse cases. It wasn’t even his bill, but he was moved to testify in part over outrage that similar bills die every year without a vote.
“It was brave,” said Republican Del. John Cluster, who was present when Wilson testified a second time, before a House committee. “You don’t get a lot of personal stories down here. People don’t really talk about themselves, not like that.”
Colleagues knew Wilson, a second term Democrat from Charles County, as gregarious but also intense, aloof and short tempered. Wilson said he wanted them to see clearly that he is broken. “The temper, and the anger … and the incessant, right below the surface volatility: These are my damages,” Wilson told senators.
Advocates for child sex abuse victims and researchers say many victims, like Wilson, do not fully recognize or cannot discuss their trauma until well into adulthood. The bill backed by Wilson would give victims until they turn 38 to file a child sex abuse lawsuit.
Key lawmakers say Wilson’s courage has given the bill attention it often lacks.
“People should have the right to come forward,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch said. “They’ve lived through trauma.”
Wilson said he’s had a few lawmakers thank him, a few others acknowledge that they, too, have been victims of sexual assault as children. But mostly, “I’ve had people kind of give me a wide berth, which is fine.”
Telling his peers in the legislature, he said, has reopened wounds he prefers not to confront. His friends say there has been a visible toll on Wilson in the days since he went public.
“Mind you, these are politicians,” Wilson said later in an interview. “People will use anything and everything against you.”
He never sought criminal or civil charges against his abuser, and said it wasn’t until he was 40 — a dozen years after his adopted father died — that he fully understood he was a victim.
He blames his two failed marriages, lost jobs and broken friendships on damage from the abuse. He says he can’t trust his instincts because knows his tendency to fly into a rage isn’t normal.
“You don’t even know your life is that messed up until you become an adult. And by then, you’re so busy trying to deny what happened,” he said. “All I ask is that you please don’t continue protect the monsters, like the ones who created this monster.”