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Advocate for Past Victims : Encino Lawyer Devotes Career to Adults Abused in Childhood

August 01, 1991|R. DANIEL FOSTER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Foster writes frequently for Valley View.

Karney entered therapy, which she continues today. The sound of typewriter keys she heard in the courtroom was indicative of a repressed memory, she said. "My father was a writer. I only felt safe around him when I heard the clicking of typewriter keys. Once he stopped, I got really scared." Two months after the courtroom drama, Karney finished trying the case at the request of the mother she represented.

"The judge decided he would suspend the father's visitation rights for six months," Karney said. "He ordered the child and mother into psychotherapy and actually, he ordered me into psychotherapy. The only person he didn't order into psychotherapy was the father."

Karney said that of the score of childhood sexual abuse cases she took on after that, "none had a better outcome."

She went on to represent teen-agers who had been sexually abused, taking on another dozen cases. She then stopped representing children altogether.

Karney said she "was never able to save a single child" from being reunited with an accused abuser after a trial. "I felt I was not helping them and, instead, felt I was contributing to a legal system that was abusing them. I was really trying to save the child inside of me, trying to give those children the voice that I never had."

She began representing adult incest victims, and in January, decided to stop taking cases so she could devote her time to educating attorneys and the public. Karney now receives about 120 calls a month requesting information about SB 108, up sixfold from late last year. For income, she operates a writing course that trains attorneys to pass bar exams.

If her story sounds like prime TV "Movie of the Week" material, it is. NBC has bought the rights to her story and is now developing a script, tentatively titled, "The Conspiracy of Silence: The Shari Karney Story."

"After all this happened, I'm finally at peace within myself," Karney said. "Fortunately, I've been able to go on and help other people. In a way, I'm orphaned now from my family and my past because I've broken the conspiracy of silence. But what I've gained is great. I've gained myself."

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