Bill would end time limit on child sex charges
HARRISBURG — A group of state lawmakers announced plans Wednesday to reintroduce a bill that would remove the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse.
Another bill would open a two-year window after a statute of limitations has expired for victims of child sex abuse to file civil lawsuits, said Reps. Mike McGeehan, D-173, and Louise Bishop, D-192.
The lawmakers have been frustrated that the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky and the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandals were not enough to move legislation out of committee last year.
“It is time to put victims first,” said Bishop, who said she was 12 when her stepfather began to sexually abuse her.
“I didn’t know how to handle it,” she said. “I knew if I told my mother it would hurt her. I knew if I told my sisters and brothers I (would be) talking about their father and they wouldn’t like it and I would be even more isolated than I was. And if I told my grandfather, he would take his legal shotgun and would have blown his head off.”
Because other victims of child sexual abuse experience those same fears, the Philadelphia lawmaker said state legislators must finally do something to stop child predators.
House Bill 237 would abolish the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil lawsuits in cases of child sexual abuse, while House Bill 238 would suspend any expired statute of limitations for two years in child sex abuse cases.
McGeehan and Bishop introduced both measures in the last legislative session and even employed rarely used discharge petitions last summer to get the bills out of the House Judiciary Committee. But the legislation died when the session ended in December.
Marci Hamilton, an attorney known for her expertise in church and state law and the author of a book on how the country can better protect children from predators, said the legislation is “the only way to get to the truth.” She said California and Delaware have had success with similar new laws in their prosecutions of Roman Catholic priests.
“The only way the truth will come out is if this Legislature has the guts to look at the Catholic conference and say, ‘We want the truth and we’re not playing your game of secrecy anymore’,” Hamilton said.
Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-31, also challenged state lawmakers to consider the bills.
“Shame on us that we can’t even get these bills to a hearing, let alone a vote,” the Bucks County lawmaker said. “Let us have a public discussion. What are they afraid of?”
More than 3,000 civil lawsuits have been filed in the United States in which victims of child sexual abuse have said their perpetrator was a Roman Catholic priest, according to a website that documents the church’s abuse cases, bishopaccountability.org.
Former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence in Greene County state prison after being convicted on charges he had sex with 10 boys over a 15-year period.
At the press conference Wednesday, former Philadelphia district attorney Lynne Abraham called the priest child sexual abuse scandal “almost an epidemic,” but said it’s important for people to remember that all people can become victims of the crime.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses, Boy Scouts of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Hassidic Jewish community, this is not restricted to any one religion or one’s creed, one’s race, one’s gender, one’s location. This is a national problem, which … has to be, finally, grappled with by the Legislature,” Abraham said.
Mark Shade: firstname.lastname@example.org or 267-326-3129