Responding to news reports that former Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin allegedly sexually assaulted children in the 1970s, District Attorney Seth Williams urged victims of any abuser and parents who suspect such crimes to call police.
Williams, who prosecuted sexual assaults against children in the early 1990s, said people often do not report the problem, leaving perpetrators free to find more victims.
On Thursday, Williams, who regularly uses social media to communicate public safety messages, said via Twitter: "When I'm King of the World, perverts like Bill Conlin won't be able to hide from criminal prosecution and incarceration because parents of victims failed to report the crimes timely."
Like many Philadelphians, Williams grew up reading Conlin. Williams began his tweet "When I'm King of the World" because Conlin often began his columns with that phrase.
"It was like his tool that he often used, his literary style, so I just played on that," Williams said later.
On Tuesday, The Inquirer reported that three women and a man said they had been molested as children by Conlin, a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He retired from the Daily News that day.
The accusers, including one of Conlin's nieces, said they had come forward because the Pennsylvania State University abuse scandal had revived painful memories.
At the time of the alleged assaults, the children told their parents what happened, but rather than reporting the allegations to authorities, the parents confronted Conlin and told their children to stay away from him.
Since The Inquirer's first story, two more women have said Conlin assaulted them as children.
Conlin's lawyer, George Bochetto, has said Conlin was "floored by these accusations" and was seeking to "vindicate his name."
In encouraging adults who learn of molestation allegations to call police, Williams said he wanted to be clear that he was not criticizing the parents in the Conlin accusations.
"My heart goes out to the parents, too," Williams said. "We have to listen to children, and when kids say they don't want to go over to Uncle Bill's house or Uncle Charlie's house or to Grandma's house, we have to ask a few more questions."
Williams, who is prosecuting child sex-abuse cases involving three Catholic priests, a defrocked priest, and a former schoolteacher, said people should report such crimes to police and not to the institutions overseeing the suspects.
In the case involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, witnesses first went to the university, Williams said. In many of the Catholic Church cases, accusations were first reported to the church. But most institutions can't police themselves, he said.
When Williams prosecuted child sexual-assault cases from 1993 to 1994, he was often stunned that many victims and families were angry with him or with the children instead of with the suspect.
He said he never understood why, but he suspects people misdirected emotions in part because most child molesters are relatives or family friends.
"Ninety percent of all child molesters are known to the family," he said. "People think it's someone random, like a clown at the mall, when more often it's Mom's boyfriend."
Williams' tweet also referred to the inability of Conlin's accusers to have legal charges brought because the statute of limitations in New Jersey, where the alleged crimes occurred, had run out.
In 1996, New Jersey eliminated its statute of limitations on sex crimes. But that law was not retroactive. The accusations involving Conlin happened in the 1970s. At that time, the statute of limitations on such crimes was five years. Gloucester County prosecutors said they completed an "exhaustive investigation" of the recent allegations but could not bring charges because of the statute.
In 2006, Pennsylvania lengthened its statute of limitations for crimes involving sexual assault against children, allowing victims whose cases had not expired under previous statutes until age 50 to bring criminal charges against their alleged assailants and until age 30 to file civil suits.
But since a grand jury report in February citing alleged child sex abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, some Pennsylvania politicians have called for abolishing the statute of limitations in such cases.
Williams noted that the limitations aim to ensure that defendants are fairly treated by not letting so much time pass after a crime that witnesses have died and evidence is hard to come by.
He said he considered the 2006 increase in the statute of limitations a step forward but would be willing to review it.
"I am definitely willing to work with other members of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and legislators to see what best practices should be," he said.
Inquirer staff writer Nancy Phillips contributed to this article.