Pennsylvania lawmakers almost got it right. While it is difficult to say a package of bills signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf this week reforming the state’s statute of limitations laws is a bad thing, it doesn’t go far enough: There is no immediate help for adult survivors of abuse, many of whom have waited decades for accountability and closure.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who oversaw the grand jury that ignited the latest statute of limitations push, said the new laws accomplish three of the four recommendations made by the grand jury that examined the decades of abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.
“These reforms fundamentally change our justice system and will protect generations of children who experience abuse from this day on,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “While we still must address justice for those survivors who made this day possible, seeing this progress gives me hope that bravery and activism will win over entrenched interests and powerful institutions.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 66 percent of children who are sexually abused are between the ages of 12 and 16. The average age a victim comes forward is age 52.
For many of them, justice is limited. That is why retroactivity was such an important component of the bill.
Still, the bills open doors that needed to be opened. The reforms include:
Eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for the most serious abuse of future child sex abuse victims;
Extending the statute of limitations for future child victims to file lawsuits, giving them until the age of 50 to sue;
Extending the time victims age 18-24 have to file lawsuits to the age of 30; and giving these young adults 20 years to notify police for criminal prosecution of their cases;
Providing counseling services for victims of sexual assault via the Crime Victims Compensation fund through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency;
Increasing the penalty for failing to report ongoing abuse;
And clarifying that survivors aren’t barred from talking to police if they sign a settlement that includes a non-disclosure agreement.
These bills would have made a difference in the past. Shapiro said because of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations laws, only two priests named in the grand jury report went to prison. If the new laws would have been in place, “more than 100 predator priests (would be) behind bars,” the attorney general said.
The legislation is a win for Pennsylvanians. There is no doubt about that. We would have the doors of justice opened for more people.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.