After the over 600-page report listing 301 pedophilic Catholic church officials and 1000+ affected children, was released this month by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, many people are asking the same question: “How do we get justice for these child sex abuse victims?” Due to the current statute of limitations in effect in PA, hundreds of victims can never get justice. People and state officials alike are looking for reform of statute of limitations to give these suffering Americans and future victims the time they need to speak up and fight back against their offender.
Current Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse
Legally placed time limits for lawsuits against sex offenders depends on several factors including when the abuse occurred, the age of the victim at the time of the crime, and availability or lack-thereof regarding DNA evidence.
In regards to civil lawsuits for sex crimes, which involved suing for compensation for pain and suffering, an adult has a time limit of two years from the time of the crime to file a suit. If the victim was a child at the time of the incident, they instead have 12 years after their 18th birthday to file. This means after the age of 30, no child sex abuse victims can sue for compensation.
If one wishes to pursue a criminal lawsuit instead, one which involves prosecution of a sex abuser, time limits are longer for both adults and children. For adult victims, they have up to 12 years to file a report with the PA law enforcement. For those victimized as children, they have this right until their 50th birthday. There is an exception, however, for criminal lawsuits. If DNA evidence has been identified after the Statute of Limitations has expired, prosecution is still allowed for up to year from the date of discovery of the abusers identity.
Bill HB 1947 and Past Legal Efforts Made for SOL Reform in PA
Efforts to reform statute of limitations on sexual abuse crimes have been made in the past already. The creation of the bill HB 1947 would completely eliminate time limits for suing/prosecuting for child sex abuse cases. It would also extend time limits for civil SOL as well to age 50. There was even a version created that would bring back civil claims that were dropped due to time limits. This bill was actually written, approved, and passed by the US Senate in early 2017. This all stemmed from a failed-to-pass bill that would have given rights to sue to the victims dating back to 1970. A version of HB 1947 has been created and approved for the House, but no word yet on voting dates.
The Current Push for Elimination of Statute of Limitations on Child Sex Abuse Cases and Time Extensions for Other PA Victims
Even with HB 1947 passing as it is now, that still leaves hundreds of victims of the recent report unable to seek justice. This is due to the US Supreme Court prohibiting the extension of criminal liability after the state of limitation expires. This means that even if the law has changed, it does not affect the expiration of cases with prior SOL set on them. This would leave anyone who has lived passed their 50th birthday with no legal rights to pursue their abuser.
Due to this concern, one PA lawmaker has decided to speak up and fight for alteration to the HB 1947 bill. Democratic Senator Rozzi spoke up many years ago about being raped by a Catholic priest at the age of 13, after two of his childhood friends who were abused by the same man had committed suicide. He has been an advocate for SOL elimination for child sex abuse cases and giving victims the chance to legally pursue their abusers.
He has been calling for a rewrite to allow for a two-year window that would give any child sex abuse victim the chance to sue their sex abuser, regardless of the victim’s current age. The Grand Jury supported this idea saying, “No piece of legislation can predict the point at which a victim of child sex abuse will find the strength to come forward.”
With the release of the PA Grand Jury’s Catholic Church sex abuse report, the demand for HB 1947 to be passed sooner has increased drastically. The public outcry and demand has been heard. House Majority Leader Dave Reed, a Republican, said recently that he expects to schedule the bill for a vote this fall.
Matzus Law Support Victims of Sexual Abuse in PA with Legal Advice and the Ability to Fight for Your Rights
Despite the fact that sex abuse crimes against children were more prominent in church communities before 1990, sexual abuse continues to run rampant across America. Many victims are shamed or threatened into silence, suffering alone. The attorney at Matzus Law LLC believe no victim should have to bare that weight. Contact us online today or call us at our Pittsburgh office at 412-206-5300 to get free initial advisement on your case. If you decide to pursue your abuser, our attorneys can stand by your side and help you fight that legal battle and regain some peace of mind.