The Pennsylvania State Senate is considering several proposals that would significantly extend the deadlines for filing civil lawsuits against child sexual abusers, as well as any institutions that protected wrongdoers and enabled their predatory behavior.
Currently, child sexual abuse victims in Pennsylvania have until age 30 to pursue civil lawsuits and until age 50 to file criminal charges. The bills were proposed after a Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigating clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church recommended extending the state’s statutes of limitations governing child sex abuse cases.
The various proposals under consideration in the senate include opening a two-year, retroactive window to allow adult survivors to pursue otherwise time-barred civil claims; giving future victims until their 55th birthday to file civil lawsuits; eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse going forward (it would not be retroactive); and seeking to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to revive expired statute of limitations through a referendum.
The Senate’s Republican majority managed to kill the proposals last year, and they’re currently stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, the committee took testimony on the legal, procedural, and ethical issues at the center of the matter. No votes were taken, and it is unclear whether or not any of the proposals will move forward.
Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor who leads Child USA, told the committee that Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations is antiquated and insisted a retroactive window was needed to expose the truth.
“You simply don’t know who the hidden predators are in your school districts,” she said. “You simply don’t know who the hidden predators are in many institutions.”
Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Bucks County Democrat who was molested by a priest in his childhood, was not permitted to testify during yesterday’s hearing, but expressed frustration that the panel seemed to give more weight to representatives of the Catholic Church and other institutions that oppose the reforms.
“I know they aren’t criminals but they are Catholic sympathizers and they get a seat at the table,” he told PennLive.com. “They can’t give an unbiased opinion and this hearing needs to be as unbiased as possible so that lawmakers have a chance to really understand the issue and not be swayed by people trying to sway in favor of the church.”
Several states, including New York and New Jersey, have already extended their statutes of limitations governing child sexual abuse. The New York Child Victims Act became law in February, following more than a decade of opposition from the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and other powerful institutions that could be looking at multi-million payouts if adult survivors are permitted to revive decades-old claims.
Among other things, the New York Child Victims Act opened a one-year window that allows the filing of previously time-barred civil cases. Since the window opened on August 14th, hundreds of new child sexual abuse lawsuits have been filed in the state. Defendants include Roman Catholic Dioceses throughout New York, Rockefeller Hospital in Manhattan, the Boy Scouts, and numerous public and private schools.