Their voices must be heard — the ones that have been silent for so long — human voices quelled by force or lost in grief they had no part in creating yet must continue to endure.
They are the voices of innocent victims — survivors of sexual assault.
They deserve every opportunity to speak out, and in doing so, to heal.
We therefore urge members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to offer that opportunity to any sexual assault victims who wish to testify during a hearing scheduled for Oct. 2 in Harrisburg.
The judiciary committee has scheduled the hearing to explore the controversy over whether to change the state’s statute of limitations — a legal term referring to the amount of time allowed to bring a criminal case or lawsuit to court.
The controversy in Pennsylvania centers on whether the statute of limitations should be amended to allow adults to file lawsuits for abuse that happened when they were children.
Under current state law, adult victims must file a lawsuit before they turn 30 years old. Advocates have argued that this is inadequate because most survivors of childhood abuse don’t feel ready or capable to step forward and seek justice until later in adulthood.
Last year, a grand jury released a report stating that Catholic leaders in six dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — had covered up sexual abuse of children committed by 300 priests. The grand jury noted that almost none of those victims can sue because the statute of limitations has expired. As a result, one of the key findings attached to the grand jury’s report was that state law should be amended to allow such lawsuits.
Gov. Tom Wolf also has called on the General Assembly to send him legislation to do just that. Thus far, all bills aimed at reforming the statute of limitations in cases have stalled in the state Legislature.
“This hearing is intended to see if there are ways to bridge the philosophical and policy differences,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne County.
Baker did not disclose who would be called to testify, but she said the hearing will include “a range of perspectives.”
“The hope is that all sides will be offering ideas for breaking the deadlock, rather than simply rehashing the standard arguments and locked-in positions,” Baker said.
Shaun Dougherty, a Johnstown man who was molested by a priest when he was a child, said he would welcome an opportunity to speak before the committee.
“For the longest time, victims have been crying out for hearings, but we’ve been blocked out of this process,” he said.
It’s time to open the doors of the hearing rooms to the abuse victims. It’s time to hear their voices, to listen to their perspectives and to take effective legislative action.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.