Pennsylvania Senate extends child sexual abuse victim rights

It can take years for victims of childhood sexual abuse to be able to speak out about their experience. Child sexual abuse survivors often need to spend time healing and in therapy. However, child abuse survivors are currently barred from bringing a civil lawsuit against their abuser 12 years after turning 18.

Child victim advocates have long been promoting a change to this law. A bill introduced on January 30, 2017, aimed to do just that. The bill passed unanimously just three days later, in early February.

The measure is intended to increase the protection of victims of child sexual abuse by eliminating the statute of limitations for both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. Republican President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati introduced the bill.

Debate on rights of past victims still ongoing

The state Senate failed to pass a similar bill in 2016 that would have allowed people abused as far back as the 1970s to pursue a claim. 

The issue was "retroactive" claims, namely what would happen for victims who had already had their statute of limitations run. While the House passed a bill last year that would have allowed retroactive liability, the measure garnered significant opposition and ultimately died in the Senate.

While the new bill extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors, it does not allow people to come forward if their own SOL has passed. In other words, there is no "retroactive" liability.

Finding closure, decades later

While this bill is not as comprehensive as previous iterations, it still provides a much-needed extension of the statute of limitations.

Victims of sexual abuse have rights. A civil lawsuit can help hold a perpetrator of sexual abuse accountable, even if there was no criminal charge - and even if the abuse occurred years, or even decades, ago. 

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