Changes proposed in Pennsylvania’s child sexual abuse statute of limitations laws

Changes proposed in Pennsylvania’s child sexual abuse statute of limitations lawsLawmakers in Pennsylvania have advanced legislation that allows victims of child sexual abuse more time to file charges or sue their attackers.

According to a report from The Philadelphia Inquirer, stalled legislation finally got out of the State House Judiciary Committee and will soon be brought to a vote on the House floor this week. It gives alleged childhood victims of sexual abuse until the age of 50 to file civil charges against the person or persons who abuse them. There would be no limit when a victim can file criminal charges.

Under current Pennsylvania state laws, an alleged victim has until the age of 30 to sue their attackers or the people responsible for allowing it to happen and until the age of 50 to pursue criminal charges. This move mirrors others across the country that affords victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to come forward with their allegations and pursue justice. Other states have recently relaxed statute of limitations laws to allow more victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice against their attackers.

The issue in Pennsylvania is at the forefront of people’s minds as many watch the developments unfold in the trial of former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, who stands accused on nearly 50 counts of molesting, sodomizing, and raping children he met through a charity he established near State College, Pa. On Friday, a jury in Bellefonte, Pa., continued deliberations on the charges after hearing about 10 days of testimony from Sandusky’s alleged victims, detailing the years of abuse he committed against them and how civil and school authorities largely ignored the accusations.

Before this proposed legislation is put into law, it must first pass through the House Rules Committee and then the full House. It will then go to the State Senate before it can be signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, who likely will hear strong opposition to the rules.

Among the opponents to the proposed legislation is the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which said the new rules will only allow frivolous lawsuits to be filed and leaves those accused with almost no chance of defending themselves against the charges. The Catholic Church has already spent millions of dollars in Pennsylvania defending itself from or settling charges of sexual abuse committed by church officials against children for decades.

Unlike some laws passed in other states, the proposed Pennsylvania legislation would not allow victims older than 50 to file charges against their attackers. The lawmakers who got the legislation that was stalled in committee for six years told the source that opening the “window” for limitless accusations could, indeed, allow potential frivolous lawsuits to be filed.

Those in favor of allowing any victims to come forward, despite when it happened, used the Sandusky case as an example of why anyone should be allowed to bring charges against their attackers. Some victims in the Sandusky case were just a year or two beyond the current statutes, meaning their evidence and accusations were inadmissible in the case against the former coach.

 

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