PA Advocates for CSA victims push for longer Justice window

Child Sexual Abuse
Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, sponser of the Bill

Advocates for child sexual abuse victims push for longer window to seek justice.

Pennsylvania lawmakers spent a lot of time and effort in the last legislative session working to prevent future cases like the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.

In many ways, the state is still adjusting to those changes.

But advocates rallied at the Capitol Monday for one more change they say is needed to deliver justice to those who’ve already been abused: extending the time frames that former victims have to seek civil damages against their abusers.

Current state law bars a victim of childhood sexual abuse from bringing a civil case against a perpetrator after the victim turns 30.

It’s not long enough, advocates say, for many childhood victims to come to terms with what happened to them. As a result, it has the effect of sheltering too many perpetrators from accountability for their actions.

“It’s high time that we accept that delayed reporting (of sexual abuse by victims) is the norm,” said Kristen Houser, vice president of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

“We have recently seen glaring examples of this in the Boy Scouts, in religious institutions, in schools and most recently with the allegations against Bill Cosby. It’s time for us to stop asking why… and finally change our laws so they are based in reality.”

Bills offered by Rep. Mark Rozzi,, D-Berks County, and Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin County, would raise the statute of limitations on civil action to age 50 for cases arising from incidents of childhood sexual abuse.

They would also remove immunity from the state, local government or private employers in the event of a finding of gross negligence by supervisors in a case of child sexual abuse by one of their employees or agents.

The age 50 benchmark would place potential civil cases on the same deadline as criminal cases.

That’s especially, important, some supporters said, since victims don’t get to make the final call as to whether criminal cases are pursued.

“We all have to be able to work through this on our own time,” noted Matt Sandusky, who went public in 2012 with allegations that he’d been abused for years by the man who would eventually become his adoptive father, Jerry Sandusky.

The statute of limitations would ordinarily have barred him from seeking damages, because Matt was 33 years old at the time.

He benefitted from the contrition of Penn State, which has bent over backwards to try to treat Jerry Sandusky’s victims fairly, and received a monetary settlement in late 2013.

Others, Matt Sandusky noted, aren’t as fortunate as he was.
“If the statute of limitations laws stay as they are… some people are no longer allowed to seek justice, just because they’ve reached that arbitrary number,” he said.

Matt Sandusky was scheduled to appear in person at Monday’s rally, but missed it due to a minor illness. He later spoke by telephone with PennLive.com.

State Rep. Louis Williams Bishop, D-Philadelphia, touted an alternative measure on the same subject Monday. Bishop’s bill would eliminate all statute of limitations restrictions, civil or criminal, on childhood sexual abuse.

Taking that step, said Bishop, will send a strong message to perpetrators that in Pennsylvania, “You can run but you can’t hide… You will have to face your day in court.”

The statute of limitations changes have been opposed in the past by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public advocacy arm of the Roman Catholic Church – and liability insurers.

Both groups would presumably be placed at greater economic risk if the changes were passed, but they also contend that the justice issue applies to them, too.

Catholic Conference spokesman Amy Hill noted that as evidence gets lost, memories fade and witnesses move away or die, it becomes “impossible for any organization that cares for children to defend themselves in court years later.”

Hill also pointed to the 2012 report by a special legislative task force on child protection issues that found Pennsylvania is already “one of the most generous states in terms of the length” of the tail for childhood sexual abuse.

None of the statute of limitations bills were considered in the 2013-14 legislative session – even as nearly two dozen other child protections bill were enacted – but Rossi, Teplitz and Bishop said they don’t intend to let the issue rest.

“Pedophiles don’t retire and our law should not protect their heinous acts,” Rossi said.

Utah Bill passes House 74-0

Child Sexual Abuse
Bill sponsor Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan

Utah Bill eliminating statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases passes House

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives unanimously passed HB277 Monday, which would eliminate the statute of limitations for lawsuits against perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

The bill, as amended by the House, applies only to perpetrators of child sex abuse as individuals.

Deondra Brown, co-founder of the nonprofit Foundation for Survivors of Abuse, was among a handful of supporters who sat with lawmakers as members of the House debated and voted on the bill. Other backers filled part of the House gallery.

The bill passed 74-0.

“It was so exciting for any of us who are victims to be able to see such support,” Brown said. “Today’s passage is another victory for victims across the state of Utah, so it’s an exciting day.”

The bill moves the Senate for its consideration.

Brown said she and her sister Desirae established their foundation to provide hope, encouragement and empowerment to survivors of abuse by working to remove the statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse.

Three Brown sisters, members of the 5 Browns classical piano quintet, were molested by their father as children. In 2010, the siblings sought criminal charges against their father, who had also been their professional manager.

In March 2011, Keith Brown was sentenced to 10 years to life for sodomy on a child, a first-degree felony, and one to 15 years each of two counts of sex abuse of a child, a second-degree felony. The sodomy and abuse incidents occurred when each of the girls was 13 or younger.

Deondra Brown also has testified at committee meetings as the bill has gone through the legislative process.

Each time she and her sisters have shared their experiences, they are contacted by other people who have experienced sexual abuse as children, who offer their support and thanks to the Browns for their advocacy work.

“It sort of lifts you through the difficult times,” she said.  As a mother of a 4-year-old daughter, Brown said she feels an even greater responsibility to help protect children by raising awareness and working to pass legislation that holds people who molest children to account.

She called the birth of her child a “huge blessing.”  “I look at her and I’m constantly reminded why I’m doing this,” she said. “I look at my daughter and think, ‘I’m doing this for you so the world is safer.’”

Bill sponsor Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, whose wife Rebecca testified to the House Judiciary Committee that she was sexually abused by a school teacher during her childhood, told House members that the emotional scars of child sexual abuse “never fully heal.”

Innocent victims end up paying the price of molestation for a lifetime in term of lost productivity, the toll on their mental and physical health and challenges it presents in their personal relationships, he said.

Ivory said the statute of limitations for lawsuits needs to be eliminated to allow victims of child sexual abuse time to heal and gain the courage and maturity to hold their abusers to account.

On average, it takes a victim until to age 40 to come forward with allegations of child sexual abuse. It can take decades to overcome feelings of shame, humiliation and even fear of retribution, he said.

Current law limits civil actions to four years after a victim’s 18th birthday or if older, within four years of discovering the abuse.
“It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. When it comes to abuse of children, justice not delayed is justice denied,” Ivory said.

Brown said she looks forward to the Utah Senate’s consideration of the bill.  “Hopefully this is going all the way to the governor’s desk,” she said.