December 5, 2019
By Steven B. Barrett, Esq.
PENNSYLVANIA LEGISLATURE CHANGES STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIMS
Last year, the Pennsylvania Attorney General released a grand jury report that investigated child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic Diocese. After the report was released, there was considerable outcry from legislators, clergy, and most importantly, survivors of abuse, to lift the statute of limitations so that offenders could be sued and face reckoning for their abuses. Unfortunately, the efforts for sweeping change failed, but Governor Wolf last week signed into law legislation that provides meaningful reforms that will help victims going forward.
The new law is the first valuable step for children and young adults to fight back and change the institutional climate of cover-up that only serves to compound and worsen the harm and injury inflicted on young people by depraved and once protected persons in authority. Those who do such malignant harm – clergy, teachers, foster care parents, scout leaders, day care providers, and their organizations – will now face justice through lawsuits that not only will force such offenders and abusers to compensate their victims, but also publicly hold them accountable. Such lawsuits will announce to the world what these institutions have done and who must be held accountable.
Changes in the Law
- Under the new law, minor victims (18 years old or younger) will now have until age 55 to sue their abuser, whereas they only had until their 30th birthday before. The new law also extends the statute of limitations for young adult victims (ages 18-23), so that they have until they turn 30 to sue their abuser. Previously, young adult victims only had two years from the date of the abuse to bring a claim.
- The legislation also extends the statute of limitations for police to file charges against abusers. Under the new law, there will be no time limit for police to file charges against abusers of children. Previously, the police had until the victim turned 50. Also, police will have 20 years to file charges against abusers of young adults. Before, the police only had twelve years.
- The legislation also invalidates secrecy agreements that keep child sexual abuse victims from talking to investigators and it increases the penalties for people who are required by law to report abuse but fail to do so. Now, institutions cannot conceal and hide their crimes with so-called secrecy agreements that essentially pay off a victim to keep quiet. Further, there is now greater incentive to report abuse by those who are required to do so, for the consequences of keeping quiet are severe.
Unfortunately, this legislation does not help adults over 30 years old who were abused as children. The legislature has indicated that it will attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to give individuals who are currently barred from bringing a claim– two years to bring such a claim. A constitutional amendment would require passing the amendment in the legislature in two consecutive years and a ballot referendum. Needless to say, adults over the age of 30 who were victimized as minors have little hope of having the law change to ensure justice is served. However, with the new law, children and young adults are now empowered to change the culture of secrecy and cover-ups of sexual abuse.
If you or a loved one is the victim of sexual abuse, contact Steven Barrett, Esq. at 215-661-0400 to discuss whether you have a legal claim.