There is pending legislation in Pennsylvania that will abolish the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. This legislation is necessary because many victims of childhood sexual abuse do not come forward until many years later, and sometimes decades after the abuse. This bill would also introduce a two-year time period during which survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose claims were already time-barred, could come forward and file a civil suit against their abusers or any entity that allowed the abuse to occur. Several other states, including California have passed statutes that included this so-called "look back" provision, which led to numerous suits being filed against the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, as a result of what occurred in California, the Catholic Church has been lobbying against this bill by stating that it is a "money-grab" and "evidence of anti-Catholic bias." As of now, the bill has not been passed or even voted on. There is always a hope that this bill will pass, and victims who have been shut out of the courthouse will finally be able to seek justice for their abuse.
Sexual abuse or harassment in schools can occur between students or between a teacher or other school employee and a student. Both types of sexual abuse or harassment can be pursued under Title IX of the United States Code. Under Title IX, recipients of federal funding, such as public schools, can be liable for student-on-student sexual harassment. In order to properly allege a Title IX sexual harassment claim for student-on-student sexual harassment, a victim must show that a sexually hostile educational environment existed; actual notice of the sexually hostile environment was provided to an appropriate person who had the authority to take corrective measures; and the school responded to the harassment in a way that amounts to deliberate indifference. A sexually hostile educational environment exists when a victim is subjected to severe, pervasive and objectively offensive sexual harassment. When the sexual abuse or harassment is committed by a teacher, a victim can also pursue a claim under Title IX. It is still necessary for the victim to show notice to an appropriate person and deliberate indifference by the school. However, rather than proving a sexually hostile environment, a victim will need to show that quid pro quo sexual harassment existed. This can be shown by proving that the victim belonged to a protected group; was subject to unwelcome sexual harassment; the harassment was based on sex; a tangible educational claim resulted from his or her rejection of the sexual harassment; and the harasser is an employee of the school.
Craig A. Cohen, a Middle School teacher in Cumberland County was arrested on Monday afternoon, charged by state agents with possessing and sharing child pornography online. Cohen's arrest stemmed from a investigation into "peer-to-peer" file sharing of child porn. It still unclear whether, and to what extent, the school knew of Cohen's behavior, or if any of the images were of his students.
It is very important that victims of sexual abuse and other crimes understand the applicable Statute of Limitations in the state where they were abused. Simply put, a Statute of Limitations puts a limit on how long a civil plaintiff can sue their abuser and the institution that enabled/employed them. After the Statute of Limitations has run, a lawsuit can no longer be filed, and a victim will be left with no civil remedy.
The possession and distribution of child pornography is a terrible crime, often with steep criminal penalties for the perpetrators. For years, however, the victims of child pornography could not recover damages against the viewers and distributors of the terrible images, despite the fact that victims are regularly reminded of his/her abuse whenever the photos turn up on the Internet or in another criminal prosecution.
In most states, employers are not automatically responsible for sexual assault or sexual abuse perpetrated by an employee simply because they employ the perpetrator. The legal term for this is vicarious liability. Rather, employers can be found responsible for the sexual assault or sexual abuse of their employees when, in the exercise of reasonable care, they should have taken action which would have prevented the sexual assault or sexual abuse. Examples of this include circumstance when employers fail to properly screen an employee before hiring him or her. Most people would agree that if a daycare operator hires someone who has previously been convicted of sexually assaulting or sexually abusing children the daycare provider should be held liable if the perpetrator sexually assaults or sexually abuses again. But what if the prior criminal offense is less obvious, such as providing alcohol to minors or non-sexual assault? I would argue that our children are the most vulnerable members of society, and those who have taken it upon themselves to employ the people who supervise our children must vigorously screen the potential worker and disqualify them at the first sign of a red flag.
It is no secret that college and university campuses habitually tolerate assault, abuse and harassment. Recent student outcry across the country has highlighted schools' failures to live up to their Title IX responsibilities: Colleges from Amherst to Arizona State have routinely responded to students' reports of violence with indifference at best, while others have struck back at survivors with vicious retaliation. Students who are victims of sexual assault thus often spend their college years, a time for growth and study, instead skipping class to avoid running into their rapist in the halls, all the while alienated from a school that has betrayed them.
Too often, students who are sexually abused or harassed by their peers, teachers, or coaches at school receive little help from their educational institutions. Worse still, when confronted with allegations of sexual abuse, school administrators sometimes side with the abuser. Title IX gives victims a chance for justice. The law allows abuse victims to sue and recover money damages from educational institutions that show indifference to allegations of sexual abuse or harassment. More than forty years ago, Congress passed Title IX as part of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972. The law was originally meant to break the glass ceiling women faced at American institutions of higher learning. Over time, though, Title IX has evolved into a powerful weapon for victims of sexual abuse and harassment. Title IX gives students the right to sue schools for indifference to abuse by fellow students, teachers, and other school employees. Teachers and school administrators are also protected under Title IX from sexual abuse and harassment at work. There are several requirements for a successful Title IX lawsuit. First, only schools that receive federal funds are subject to the law. Second, an "appropriate school official" must have actual notice of the alleged abuse or harassment. Third, the school official must respond to the allegations with "deliberate indifference." All public schools receive federal funds, and are thus subject to Title IX liability. But what if the victim was abused at a private school? Luckily for abuse victims, many private schools receive federal funds. In one Pennsylvania case, for example, a judge allowed an abuse victim to sue a private catholic high school under Title IX because the institution took federal subsidies for a school lunch program.