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.)
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:
The hearing continues all day. I'll post more testimony if it comes my way.
-- Monica Yant Kinney