On Oct. 15, survivors of childhood sexual abuse and supporters were at the Pennsylvania state capitol to pressure legislators to open a “window of justice.”
Demonstrators held signs demanding a “#WindowToJustice,” which would allow survivors of sexual abuse for whom the civil window has closed to file a retroactive civil claim against an abuser. Some of the Senate hallway occupants took turns reading from the almost 900-page state grand jury report released two months ago, which details the sexual abuse of around 1,000 children committed by 301 priests.
Since 2005, the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse in Pennsylvania has been a topic of discussion for reform, but survivors who have passed the deadline for filing a civil claim have yet to see results. While at the same time many states have passed laws to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes, a similar law in Pennsylvania failed to pass.
However, the state Senate could vote to reform the statute of limitations. If they fail to act or vote against reform, efforts will have to start again from scratch next year.
Statute of limitations in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, civil cases must be filed within two years of the abuse if the victim was over the age of 18. If the victim was a minor, they have until 12 years after their 18th birthday to file civil charges.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) points to the likelihood of re-offense for sex offenders who abuse children and believe it is important to identify these individuals even if the abuse occurred a long time ago. PCAR supports a one-time, two-year window of opportunity for past survivors who were previously blocked from seeking civil damages to do so.
At the state capitol, sexual abuse survivor Larry Ford, Jr. said he was there to pressure lawmakers so that abusers could be held accountable and another child would never have to suffer the abuse he endured.
“My philosophy is if we can’t protect the children in this country, we can’t protect anything,” Ford said.