For many victims of sexual assault, it may take years — or even decades — for them to fully come to grips with what they have experienced, and to acknowledge that they were sexually assaulted. This is also true for childhood victims of sexual assault, who may have not understood that what happened to them as children was abuse. Because it may take a number of years for a victim of sexual assault to come to terms with what has happened to her or him, we join our statewide organization, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), in supporting a new law aimed at expanding the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits by victims of child sexual assault.
In Pennsylvania, criminal charges for child sexual assault can be filed until the victim reaches age 50.* This law recognizes that many victims do not come to terms with their abuse until decades after it occurred. But despite the fact that criminal law allows charges to be pursued until the victim reaches 50, the statute of limitations for civil cases is still limited to 12 years after a victim turns 18 (to age 30). This means that if a victim realizes, after age 30, that she or he was abused as a child, criminal charges can be filed — but the victim cannot pursue a civil lawsuit against her abuser or an institution (such as a church, school or other organization that may have facilitated or allowed the abuse to happen). With the recent high profile Jerry Sandusky case in Pennsylvania and other situations, lawmakers have realized that it is time to close the gap between the statute of limitations for criminal and civil charges in child sexual assault cases. House Bill 661 and Senate Bill 1103 would expand the statute of limitations for civil cases to match criminal cases; victims of child sexual assault could file civil lawsuits against their abusers and others until they are 50 years old. This bill would also take away immunity for governmental or private employers in the event that a court found that they were grossly negligent in supervising an employee who sexually abused a child.
According to Kristen Houser of PCAR, “We’ve seen it time and time again in high profile cases involving the Boy Scouts, various religious institutions, public and private school, even in the case of allegations against Bill Cosby, these are adults who are waiting decades to come forward. It is the norm, it is expected, that people wait for years to disclose that they were sexually abused. Now is the time for Pennsylvania to finally change our laws to be based in this reality.” We stand with PCAR in supporting this legislation, and ask for YOUR help in ensuring that these bills become law. Start by finding your legislators, and then contact them to let them know that you support HB 661 and SB 1103. Ask them to stand up for victims of child sexual assault in Pennsylvania and vote YES on these bills!
*This statute of limitations applies to victims who were born after August 27, 2002. For victims who were born before August 27, 2002, the statute of limitations for criminal charges is until they reach age 30. (https://www.pcar.org/laws-policy/statute-limitations).