What justice is available for PA victims of sexual abuse?

Will an attempt to reform the law help victims of child sex abuse find justice?

Our founders designed our legal system to provide victims of crimes two options to hold their abusers accountable for their wrongdoing: the criminal and civil systems. The criminal system serves to punish the abuser and deter others from similar wrongdoing. The civil system aims to make the victim whole through monetary awards that financially punish the perpetrator while providing funds for the victim to help him or her transition into a better future.

Unfortunately, there are flaws in the system. One such flaw: the statute of limitations.

Statute of limitations and child sex abuse in Pennsylvania

Current Pennsylvania law puts a time limit on when survivors of child sex abuse can file a lawsuit against their abusers. The law allows child victims until age 30 to file a civil claim and 50 to file criminal charges against their abuser. Lawmakers are considering a push for reform, as discussed in detail in a previous piece, available here.

Leaders in the church fight against reform

Not surprisingly, as noted in a recent publication by the York Daily Record, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has fiercely opposed the proposal. The group takes particular issue with a two-year window that would allow survivors who have already lost the chance to file a civil claim an opportunity to pursue this form of justice.

Bishops have stated this "window to justice" could lead to bankruptcy and have a negative impact on ministries and social services. Instead, they have proposed a voluntary compensation fund to evaluate claims and provide compensation amounts. Although a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Catholic bishops has stated the fund would result in "swift, efficient" compensation, no specific details are available on the actual workings of the funds and determinations for awards.

Child sex abuse victims are wise to take proactive steps to protect their legal rights

Even if the law passes, it is likely to face a legal challenge. One potential legal issue involves whether or not the proposed window would be constitutional. A challenge of this nature could defeat the law if it succeeds in establishing the law was aimed solely at the Catholic Church.

Survivors note the real issue is the church's continued attempts to protect predatory priests. One way to ensure abusers are held accountable: aggressive litigation. Regardless of the fate of the proposal, victims of child sexual abuse are wise to seek legal counsel to discuss their case. A clergy abuse lawyer can review your case, discuss the process and advocate for your right to bring your abuser to justice.