Last week, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office released a report on a grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and religious leaders. The report details decades of abuse and cover-ups by leaders in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, with hundreds of children victimized. You can read the full report here. While the grand jury investigation into these crimes is ongoing, one of the most disturbing conclusions of this report is that no criminal charges will be brought at this time, because either the alleged abusers are dead or the statute of limitations has expired. That means that hundreds of victims and their families — at least one of whom has committed suicide due to the abuse — will receive no justice. This result is incredibly unfair, and is not something we should tolerate in our society. We join our statewide organization, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), in asking the Pennsylvania Legislature to removal the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases.
As the law currently stands in Pennsylvania, adult victims of sexual assault have 12 years to report their assault before the statute of limitations expires. Child victims of sexual assault — anyone who was under 18 years old when they were abused — have either 12 or 32 years to report their sexual assault, depending on their date of birth. This graphic, created by PCAR, helps to explain these laws (also available here).
While 12 to 32 years may seem like a long time, the reality is that it is common for victims of sexual assault to wait years or decades to report their abuse. Sexual assault leaves victims feeling scared, confused, ashamed and humiliated. They may struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and addiction, and it often takes years for them to make a connection between their abuse and these issues. The bottom line, according to Delilah Rumburg, CEO of PCAR, “Delayed reporting is normal and should be expected.” It follows that if delayed reporting of sexual assault is the norm, the statute of limitations for these crimes should be removed. This would be a significant step towards truly understanding the nature of sexual assault and its impact on victims. It would also allow for justice in any case where the crimes are not uncovered for decades after they happened.
If we are serious about protecting victims of sexual assault, then we must lift the statute of limitations on these crimes. This would allow for the reality of delayed reporting, and it would stop predators from escaping punishment just because their victim(s) didn’t report their abuse within an arbitrary time frame. Join us and PCAR as we ask the Pennsylvania Legislature to remove the statute of limitations for sexual assault!