BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A woman who was awarded$14 million as a victim in a child molestation case described Wednesday whatthat victory means to her.
Kelly Bowles says standing up to her abuser was difficult, but hopes her case givesother victims strength to do the same.
"I really want people to know this is a big problem and needs to be treated as such," Bowles, said.
Bowles said she hopes her story will encourage other victims of sexual abuse to speak out, but said her journey for justice hasn't been easy.
"There's a lot of shame and guilt, and I think that's why a lot of people don't speak up," Bowles said.
A Berkeley County judge recently awarded Bowles $14 million in damages against her former stepfather Donald Baxter.
Baxter was found guilty in a Berkeley County Civil Court of repeatedly molesting and abusing Bowles.
She said the abuse started when she was about six years old and continued throughout a 10-year period in the 1990s.
Bowles' attorney, Joseph Griffith, said this award, which is one of the largest in a child molestation case ever awarded in the state, sends a powerful message to abusers.
"We want to send a message that not only will your liberty be at stake, but your pocketbook will be at stake if you commit child molestation," Griffith said.
Bowles said the award can't erase what happened to her, but hopes her victory in civil court will help protect other children from sexual abuse.
Child abuse advocates say it's a long-overdue step in the right direction.
"That really suggests the level of harm that sex abuse does to a child and also suggests our community and our courts are beginning to understand how critical it is we respond with a strong message: This isn't acceptable behavior," said Libby Ralston, with the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center.
The judge ruled that Bowles should receive $7 million in punitive damages and about $7-million in actual damages against Baxter.
A phone call to Baxter's attorney went unreturned Wednesday night. It is still unclear if Baxter will appeal.