For nearly 40 years, Paul Henry Regdos’ daughter said, she has lived with the aftermath of years of sexual abuse and rape by her father that began when she was 5 years old.
It was not until last week — when she sued her father under the state’s Child Victims Act — that something shifted within her.
“This is the most powerful thing I’ve ever done in my life, and also the most embarrassing,” said the woman, now 44. “You know what it means to me? Someone believes that this happened. I’m finally validated.”
The Child Victims Act makes it possible for any survivors of childhood sexual abuse in New York State to sue their abusers and their abusers' employers during a one-year window that opened on Aug. 14, temporarily lifting the statute of limitations.
More than 90% of the cases filed in Western New York thus far, though, have been filed by plaintiffs who say they were abused by a Catholic priest.
But a handful of people who say they were abused are suing relatives, former neighbors and other individuals.
Of the 115 Child Victims Act cases filed in Western New York, only four alleged abusers were not teachers, religious leaders or Boy Scout leaders.
Those cases involve a Maryland man accused of abusing and attempting to rape his 3-year-old niece in Williamsville in 1971; a Florida man accused of repeatedly raping and abusing his friend’s 10-year-old sister in Great Valley in Cattaraugus County in the mid-1980s; and a local doctor accused of molesting an 11-year-old girl he invited into his Hamburg apartment in 1981 to see his newborn baby.
“For a lot of survivors, there is some sense of closure just in being able to commence the lawsuit,” said local attorney William A. Lorenz Jr. of HoganWillig, who is representing Regdos’ daughter.
Sometimes, cases involving individuals not connected with a church or other institution can be more difficult to bring forward, due to one factor: time. Survivors of sexual abuse often are not ready to file a suit until long after the abuse has occurred, noted attorney Mike Reck, whose firm filed more than 250 Child Victims Act lawsuits statewide last week. By that time, the perpetrator may have already died, said Reck, an attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates.
“Every one of these lawsuits is important and substantial,” said Reck, “but the institutions exist longer than the individual perpetrators do.”
Beyond that, abuse cases involving relatives can be more difficult for survivors to talk about, let alone litigate, if family dynamics create pressure to keep the abuse quiet, he said.
Regdos’ daughter, who spoke to a reporter on the condition that her name not be published, said she tried repeatedly as a child to tell an adult in her family about the abuse she endured over eight years. She said that relatives insisted that she was lying.
Her father molested her regularly, she said. By the time she was 11, things had escalated. Nowhere in her North Tonawanda home felt safe.
“In my bedroom, in his bedroom, in the bathroom, in the garage – it happened everywhere in the house,” said the woman, whose name is not used in the lawsuit. “He raped me over and over. There were times I would fight him off of me and I would hide in a closet, naked, until my mom came home.”
She would often pretend to be sleeping or sick, in the hopes that he would leave her alone.
“It didn’t matter,” she said. “He would take me off the couch and rape me.”
When she was 13, she said, she confided in her best friend. That friend’s mother got involved, and Regdos’ daughter soon got the chance to tell the police what her father had done.
Her father was convicted of sexual abuse, attempted rape and attempted sodomy in 1991 and served 20 years in prison, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Public records reviewed by The Buffalo News did not indicate the identity of his victim. Lorenz, his daughter's attorney, said Regdos was convicted of crimes he committed against his daughter.
Regdos, 70, now lives in the Village of Waterloo in the Finger Lakes, according to New York State's Sex Offender Registry, which categorizes him as a sexually violent offender. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Regdos' daughter said she has not seen her father since the day he was arrested in 1991. But every day since he was released from the Auburn Correctional Facility in 2011, she said, she has feared he would find her and kill her. She moves around a lot, she said, to make it harder for him to track her down.
Although the abuse ended more than 30 years ago, she said, the stigma and emotional trauma has stayed with her. She hopes that her lawsuit will help ensure that he will not abuse any other children.
“I want whoever he’s with to know he is a rapist and a sexual molester,” she said. “Whoever he’s with, they might have kids. He might be doing it to them.”
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