Rozzi, Bishop joined by advocates, stakeholders to modernize child sex abuse statutes of limitations
HARRISBURG, March 2 — State Reps. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, and Louise Williams Bishop, D-Phila., held a Capitol news conference today to highlight the drastic need for reform of Pennsylvania’s archaic laws affecting victims of child sexual abuse.
Rozzi and Bishop were accompanied by state Sen. Rob Teplitz, state Rep. Tom Murt and prominent reform advocates to discuss their respective bills, which are largely modeled after previously introduced legislation that would modify the statute of limitations to allow victims to seek civil action against perpetrators.
Rozzi’s House Bill 661 would raise the age from 30 to 50 years for an adult victim of child sex abuse to file a civil claim, consistent with criminal statute. Previously time-barred victims would be permitted to bring suit.
"For victims of child sexual abuse, the pain and suffering never go away. The perpetrator suffers no consequences. Because of time limits imposed on victims, the perpetrator is free to keep stalking, grooming and destroying more children’s lives. As legislators, we have an obligation to institute laws that safeguard our citizens; especially those who cannot protect themselves, our children," Rozzi said. "I am grateful to my colleagues and those who made it a priority to stand in support of these important legislative initiatives. We will continue to fight for their right to justice. Pedophiles don’t retire and our law should not protect their heinous acts."
Bishop’s legislation, House Bill 655, would entirely remove the statute of limitations to allow for victims of child sexual abuse to file civil suit or criminal charges regardless of the amount of time that’s passed since the alleged abuse occurred.
"These victims oftentimes live in silence for years with the terrible acts committed against them. When they find the strength to come forward, regardless of how many years have passed, they should be able to seek justice against their perpetrators," Bishop said. "It took me more than 60 years to come to terms with what happened to me and to find the courage to share my story. The judicial system must extend a helping hand to victims, not shield the abusers."
Teplitz discussed his companion legislation to Rozzi’s House Bill 661 that he has introduced in the Senate.
"We wanted to put out strong legislation that would protect victims while ensuring that it was meaningful and passable. Our bills represent a fair compromise that we believe will still close loopholes and help victims seek justice," said Teplitz, D-Dauphin/Perry. "I want to thank Representative Rozzi for taking the lead on this legislation, and for his determination and advocacy on behalf of victims of this horrific crime."
Murt discussed his support of allowing past victims of child sexual abuse to come forward and seek legal recourse against their perpetrators.
"I am compelled by my conscience and by my office to act on behalf of victims until the perpetrators have been punished and justice has been served," said Murt, R-Montgomery/Phila.
Matt Sandusky, founder of Peaceful Hearts Foundation, a charity that supports survivors of child sexual abuse, was scheduled to appear but was unable to attend. He did submit a statement on why he believes the commonwealth’s statutes of limitations are too short and leave many victims without a chance at justice.
"Statute of limitations reform has become a political issue and we need to change that. True reform is a human issue. Either you want to protect children and victims or you don’t, it’s that simple," Sandusky said.
The following guests and advocates shared their thoughts and concerns regarding the current statute of limitations and their support for legislative reforms:
- Chris Anderson of Male Survivor Network said, "Giving survivors the opportunity to seek justice is an act of compassion and support. It is well past time for our society to adopt victim-centered, trauma-informed legislation that lifts up the voices of survivors."
- Kristen Houser, vice president of the Pennsylvania Coalition against Rape, said, "People perpetrate sexual abuse in private, and victims usually think they are the only one and feel very isolated. We have to look at this through the eyes of a 12-year-old: You don’t understand human sexuality period, let alone abuse. It is high time that we accept that delayed reporting is the norm: we have recently seen glaring examples of this in the Boy Scouts, in religious institutions, in schools and most recently with allegations against Bill Cosby."
- Tammy Lerner from the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse identified childhood sexual abuse as a serious health care epidemic costing the U.S. over $46 billion annually: "Without statutes of limitations reform, a gaping loophole exists that allows perpetrators to escape justice and fly under the radar, allowing them to live and work in communities with access to children."