Pennsylvania bill seeks to extend ability of child sex abuse victims to bring claims

Proposed law would allow victims to come forward until the age of 50

The incidences of child sexual abuse involving Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky shook the nation and made front-page headlines for months. Revelations of abuse by members of the clergy in Pennsylvania and across the nation have made many wary of once-trusted public figures.

It sometimes seems as if no institution is safe from inappropriate sexual behavior. In the wake of the Sandusky scandal, Pennsylvania's Attorney General Kathleen Kane discovered sexually explicit emails between staffers and some prosecutors during the course of the Sandusky investigation.

It is important to note that no prosecutor or staffer has been accused of possession of child pornography or child sexual abuse. Still, the ongoing investigation can be disheartening for those who would otherwise want to bring claims regarding their own abuse and may not trust institutions to protect their rights. Still, child abuse victims are not alone, and many in the legal system are attempting to help victims bring claims against sexual predators.

Child abuse victims are not alone

While it may seem that sexual abuse is somehow happening more often, much of what's occurring now in the media is actually positive. Rather than being forced to hide or feel somehow responsible for their abuse, victims are courageously speaking out about their experiences in an attempt to limit future incidences and protect children from perpetrators.

Understandably, it can often take some time before a victim of child abuse is ready to come forward. That is why some Pennsylvania lawmakers are looking to extend the statute of limitations for when child abuse victims can bring claims against their abusers.

Current law allows child sex abuse victims until they are 30 to bring claims. This may not be enough time, many experts and psychologists claim. There are current proposals in both the state House and Senate that would allow victims until the age of 50 to bring claims against their abusers. The bill would also eliminate the sovereign immunity that certain public officials and offices have in such cases.

It is unclear if these bills will pass; opposition from insurers, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and others question what extending the statute of limitations will accomplish and also question its constitutionality. However, the sponsor of the bill in the House, Rep. Mark Rozzi, has said that "the community has a right to know that these men and women are still out there" and that he will work to get the measure passed. Rep. Rozzi participated in a press conference on September 24 to announce legislation that was introduced to the state Senate on September 16.

Myths about sexual abusers debunked

Because sexual abuse, especially when perpetrated against children, is such an emotionally charged topic, it can sometimes seem as if sexual abusers are only social outcasts or self-evident monsters. Tragically, however, sexual abusers can be anyone. Sexual abusers can be men or women, relatives, neighbors and coworkers. People respected otherwise by society or who hold positions of authority may have a history of committing sexual abuse.

Often the only way to prevent future occurrences of sexual abuse and to receive some measure of justice is to bring a claim against such abusers in court. For child sex abuse victims, bringing a claim can be extraordinarily difficult, but can also be beneficial both to the victim and to help protect others from future harm.

The experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Leisawitz Heller have a history of helping child abuse victims obtain justice. Our attorneys can help victims discuss their legal options, rebuild their lives and hold sexual predators accountable for their actions.

Keywords: Child abuse, child molestation, lawsuit, statute of limitations.