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Child sex abuse survivors led a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Monday, pushing for passage of new legislation which would extend the statute of limitations for claims to be pursued against perpetrators and those who enabled the acts, as well as provide a two year “window” for civil sexual assault lawsuits to be filed that were previously time-barred.
The legislation, House Bill 951, comes after a prior failed attempt to amend the state constitution, because the secretary of state’s office did not publish a required public notice to allow the measure to be placed on the ballot. However, supporters of the bill say a constitutional amendment is not required, and that the legislation would survive a constitutional challenge.
Although new constitutional amendment to extend the child sex abuse statute of limitations in Pennsylvania has been proposed, it would take years to pass and go into effect, critics say.
Pennsylvania was the flashpoint for a resurgence of interest in child sex abuse, following the discovery of widespread problems among priests in the Catholic Church. Details of a prior grand jury investigation in the state identified at least 90 Catholic priests that faced credible claims of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area. However, survivors of the abuse were often prevented from presenting claims since they never learned about the extent of the problems, as the Catholic Church engaged in a cover-up that spanned decades and shifted priests to other locations where the abuse continued unabated.
That grand jury report indicated the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up sexual assaults involving priests who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. After 90 of those priests were identified, it sparked investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide, and a number of states have enacted legislation allowing survivors of prior abuse to bring claims against the Church or other responsible entities, regardless of how long ago the assault occurred.
The legislation comes after growing recognition that large institutions like the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other organizations have actively covered up and suppressed information about credit claims of abuse for decades, to prevent survivors of the abuse from pursuing legal actions.
The proposed Pennsylvania legislation would give not only a two-year window of time during which a civil child sexual abuse lawsuit can be filed regardless of when it occurred, but it would also give victims 37 years after turning 18 during which they can sue for damages. Those who are assaulted between the ages of 18 and 24 would have until they were 30 to bring claims.
Those rallying in the capitol on Monday told media outlets victims had waited long enough and it was time for the bill to be passed. It has already passed in the state House, but the state Senate has yet to put it up for a vote. Advocates say it likely has the votes to pass and the governor is likely to sign it into law.
New York, New Jersey, California and a number of other states have enacted similar legislation to extend the child sex abuse statute of limitations in recent years, allowing survivors additional time to present their claims due to coverup activities and inherent issues which may prevent individuals from pursuing claims until later in life.