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For the Kids

The voiceless speak at a Harrisburg hearing on the effect of child sex abuse.

As I type, child sex abuse victims, advocates and experts are testifying in Harrisburg about the need for Pennyslvnaia to adopt more survivor-friendly laws and regulations.

I previewed today's public hearing in Sunday's column, writing about how outgoing Republican Rep. Denny O'Brien held the event even after party leaders ignored his requests for official permission. Undeterred, O'Brien changed the description to an "informational" hearing and trudged ahead with his plan to give the voiceless a forum to scream for legal reform in the wake of abuse scandals embroiling both the Catholic church and Penn State University.

(Chief among many of the speakers' goals: Passing House bills 878 and 832, which would expand or eliminate the statute of limitations governing when victims can pursue civil lawsuits against their abusers.)

Click here to read testimony from longtime victim's advocate John Salveson. Below, I post excerprts from Marci Hamilton, the law professor and attorney who has long agitated on behalf of victims' needs and legal rights.

The most serious threat to children in Pennsylvania and most states today, Hamilton wrote, is that child predators are benefitting from the legal system.

Statutes of limitations usually expire before victims come forward, leaving the victims mute. That silence is the child predator's best friend. We need to alter that balance so that children are protected and predators are disabled.

Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused now of abusing 9 children through his connections to the Second Mile nonprofit and Penn State.  At this point, the oldest survivor to come forward is 29.  Under existing Pennsylvania law, any victim who is now over 30 years-old, likely would be shut out of both prosecution and a civil action.   That means victims who were abused in the 1970s, 1980s, and even the 1990s have no legal recourse for what was done to them.  That is irrational and unfair.

Statute of limitations reform, and specifically, window legislation, is the one tried and true means that will identify the most hidden child predators, who are grooming their next child victims right now in Pennsylvania.   House Bills 878 and 832 would protect the children of Pennsylvania by making it possible for victims to come forward and identify their perpetrators in a court of law.  It would also bring delayed, but still needed, justice to these victims. This is a sunshine law for children.

Regarding the two reform bills at issue, Hamilton reminds:

House Bill 832:

  1. Eliminates the statute of limitations for a number of enumerated criminal offenses involving child sexual abuse;

  2. Eliminates the statute of limitations in civil cases where the sexual abuse was the result of compulsion or threats made by the adult defendant to the child victim

House Bill 878:

  1. Extends the statute of limitations in all civil cases not encompassed by House Bill 832 by allowing claims to be brought in court up to 32 years after the victim turns 18;

  2. Establishes a most important civil "window" which allows any suit that was previously barred from court solely on statute of limitations grounds to commence within the two year period of the "window." (A suit previously brought and dismissed as being untimely could be revived upon petition and showing of newly discovered evidence, excusable neglect or other "extraordinary circumstances").

The hearing continues all day. I'll post more testimony if it comes my way.

-- Monica Yant Kinney

Click here to read more from the metro columnists.