Burns: Child sex abuse victims deserve to be heard

Bills would ensure victims can discuss abuse with police, despite settlement agreements

HARRISBURG, April 11 – Victims of child sex abuse should never be prevented from talking to law enforcement about the abuse they endured, and state Rep. Frank Burns said he soon will introduce legislation that would ensure victims’ voices are heard and cannot be silenced.

Burns, D-Cambria, said his bills would implement one of the key recommendations from last year’s statewide grand jury report on child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church: ensuring victims are clearly aware they still have a right to talk with law enforcement, even if they have agreed to a settlement that includes a non-disclosure agreement.

“I was extremely disturbed by the information contained in the report, notably a “playbook for concealing the truth” used by the church that included secret financial payouts aimed at silencing these victims,” Burns said. “Many of them didn’t know that there are limits to the non-disclosure provisions in the settlements they signed. No victim of sexual abuse – especially a child – should be barred from talking with police about the abuse that was inflicted upon them.”

Burns’ first bill would require any settlement agreement that includes a confidentiality clause to contain a disclaimer that contact with law enforcement is permitted, and any attempt to use the agreement to prevent or discourage such contact would be illegal. His second bill, modeled after similar legislation signed into law in California in 2016, would explicitly state that victims of child sexual abuse can discuss the facts surrounding any incident in a settlement agreement, regardless of a non-disclosure clause.

Burns said state Attorney General Josh Shapiro supports a set of recommendations contained in the grand jury report, including measures to clarify state law to ensure victims are made aware they can speak with law enforcement, even if they’ve signed a confidentiality agreement.

Once introduced, Burns’ legislation is expected to be referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.