UPDATE 7/5/2016: The legislation described in the post below (originally published 4/13/2016) has now been approved unanimously by the PA Senate. However, the Senate also rejected a provision approved by the House to restore the ability of onetime-child victims to sue for damages if they are now older than the current legal age limit of 30.
Earlier this week, the House voted to abolish the existing statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes and extend the time frame in which victims are able to file lawsuits against their abusers. Currently, victims have until the age of 30 to sue their abusers, but this new legislation would expand that window to the age of 50. Additionally, the law would eliminate the time frame for filing criminal cases.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this proposed law is the decision to make it retroactive, allowing victims currently between the ages of 30 and 50 to file lawsuits over abuse that happened to them as children. This development is revolutionary for victims and advocates who have spent years lobbying for change.
It’s common for individuals who were sexually abused as children to wait decades before telling anyone about the abuse. According to Philly.com, hundreds of victims have said this statute of limitations has prevented them from seeking justice.
What Happens Next?
Next, the bill heads to the Senate. Although its passing would do great justice for victims of sexual abuse in our society, some organizations are quite outspoken about their opposition to it. These opponents are concerned about its impact on certain institutions like the Catholic Church. In other states, similar measures have led many diocese into bankruptcy. In its statement, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said it continues to “have serious concerns about retroactively extending the civil statute of limitations against nonprofit and private institutions, allowing lawsuits for cases involving matters that occurred decades ago.” Amy B. Hill, a spokesperson for the Catholic Conference said that after similar laws were enacted in other states, “the Catholic faithful and the poor served by the church, who were in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago, were penalized instead of those who perpetrated those crimes.”
However, the real concern in these cases should be the victims. These victims are owed justice, especially after there have been so many cases in which the Church concealed the abuse. This new bill could finally afford hundreds the healing that they need, as well as hold the abusers accountable for their actions.