Four things to know about Pennsylvania’s new childhood sexual abuse bill

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania may have reached a tipping point. Republicans and Democrats alike throughout the state are calling for passage of a law to expand the rights of victims of childhood sexual abuse.

The state has seemingly dealt with more than its fair share of sexual abuse, against both adults and children. Just think of the national headline-grabbing stories: Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children at Penn State, Bill Cosby's sexual abuse of young women, and the first conviction of a high-ranking Catholic official, as noted by a recent piece in The New York Times.

The push for reform comes on the heels of yet another scandal. A recent grand jury report finds that the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in Pennsylvania was engaged in a cover up involving as many as 50 church officials.

What does the law say?

The push for reform involves a law that could provide legal recourse for victims of childhood sexual abuse and other scandals. It essentially extends the time period that these victims have to move forward with a suit against their abusers. The law states:

If an individual entitled to bring a civil action arising from childhood sexual abuse is under 18 years of age at the time the cause of action accrues, the individual shall have a period of 32 years after attaining 18 years of age in which to commence an action for damages regardless of whether the individual files a criminal complaint regarding the childhood sexual abuse.

The law is an increase of 20 years over the current statute of limitations for these suits, which is set at 12 years. That means the law would now allow victims until the age of 50 to move forward with a civil suit, instead of shutting them out after the age of 30.

How is the bill being received?

So far, the bill is being received well by lawmakers throughout the state. The Reading Eagle reports the House Judiciary Committee voted 26 to 1 to move House Bill No. 1947 forward. The State House also approved the bill, with a vote of 180 to 15.

Will the bill survive?

Although received favorably in the House, the fate of the bill is not yet certain. The bill has yet to be decided in the Senate, where it was referred on April 28, 2016. However, Governor Wolf has indicated that he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Not every group is in favor of the law. Insurance companies and Catholic-based lobbying groups have voiced opposition, stating that the proposal will have a negative financial impact on schools and churches.

The bottom line: many victims, previously denied justice, could soon have a renewed opportunity to achieve it

It is important for those who are the victims of sexual abuse to know that remedies may be available. Of course, one way is to report the abuse right away to the authorities. But, just as importantly, you should consider filing a civil suit. These suits provide both monetary awards and an opportunity to hold the abuser accountable. By taking this step the victim can both move forward with the healing process and also better ensure that the abuser is no longer able to hurt others.

That's called justice, and the attorneys at Leisawitz Heller have been helping victims of sexual abuse achieve it for over 20 years. Call us today at 610.816.0901 if you, or someone you love, has been a victim of this terrible crime.