Controversy swirls over bill for victims of sexual abuse

Pennsylvania lawmakers are debating a bill concerning the right to sue alleged sexual abusers.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are struggling to agree on a new law designed to protect the rights of victims of sexual abuse. As the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, House Bill 1947 had been primarily aimed at extending the statute of limitations for sexual abuse civil cases, meaning that people who had been the victims of childhood sexual abuse would be able to sue the perpetrators of that abuse and the institutions that enabled them decades after it happened. Lawmakers, however, are currently debating over whether the provisions in the bill should be applied retroactively or if they should only be applied to future victims of sexual abuse.

What is in the bill

The main thing that House Bill 1947 does is remove the statute of limitations for some criminal charges related to sexual abuse and it extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims who want to sue their alleged abusers and the institutions who allowed the abuse to occur. Under current law, victims of childhood sexual abuse must bring their claim before they turn 30 years old. The proposed law would extend that period to age 50.

Additionally, as the Times Herald reports, the bill lowers the standard of proof against government organizations such as public schools involved in accusations of conspiracy or solicitation related to sexual abuse. If the bill passes, the standard of proof in such cases would be lowered to negligence, which is much easier to prove than the current standard of gross negligence.

Controversy over the bill

While some elements of the bill have been met with approval by both victims' rights advocates and lawmakers, controversy has swirled over whether the provisions in the bill should be applied retroactively. The House version of the bill would have allowed victims of alleged sexual abuse to bring claims even if that abuse happened in the 70s, 80s, and 90s-instances that fall outside of Pennsylvania's current statute of limitations.

The Senate, however, removed the retroactive provision from the bill, meaning that the age 50 statute of limitations would only apply to future sexual abuse victims. Because the bill was changed, it was sent back to the House, many of whose members have insisted that the retroactive provision must be returned to the proposed legislation.

Why a retroactive bill absolutely necessary

We now know that victims of child sexual abuse often don't report their abuse until several years later, often well after their 30th birthdays. When they are ready to come forward many learn that the statute of limitations in both the criminal and civil justice systems prohibits them from holding anyone accountable for the abuse. Because the criminal statute of limitations cannot be retroactively changed, the only way to expose pedophiles who have fallen between the cracks and those who have enabled them is through retroactive change to the civil statute of limitations. If we don't retroactively change the civil statute of limitations pedophiles will continue to infiltrate our society, often-times in roles with youth serving organizations, without fear that they will be brought to justice.

Fighting to make sexual abusers accountable

Sexual abuse is a crime that leaves victims with emotional and psychological scars for decades to come. Not only should sexual abuse victims receive financial compensation for the pain and suffering they have gone through, but also the perpetrators of these crimes on children should be held publicly and privately accountable, no matter how many decades have passed since the reprehensible acts occurred. A personal injury attorney who is experienced in handling these sensitive cases can provide excellent guidance and representation to those who have been sexually abused in their attempts to make abusers answer for their actions.

We have been fighting for the rights of sexual abuse victims for many years. We believe it is fundamentally unfair that special interest groups have successfully lobbied Harrisburg to slam the doors to the court house shut in the faces of victims of child sexual abuse. They deserve a chance to hold perpetrators and the institutions that enabled the abuse to be held accountable for their actions. The burden for paying for the aftermath of sexual abuse should not be borne by all of society, but only those responsible for causing it in the first place. Our firm has handled countless sexual abuse cases with an eye on prevention, accountability, and healing.