PA HB 612 – Seeks to amend Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) in order to allow victims of child sexual abuse to file criminal and/or civil actions against their abuser(s). Further, this proposal allows for a two-year retroactive window in which to file a civil complaint for those whose limitation period has already expired.
- What is the purpose of the bill?
Child sexual abuse is any sexual interaction between a child and adult or another child. Sexual abuse can involve touching and non-touching. Examples of sexual acts involving touching include touching of the genitalia, buttocks, breasts, oral sex, or sexual penetration. Non-touching sexual acts involve voyeurism, exhibitionism, and child pornography. Often, abusers do not resort to physical force but instead coerce the child into sexual acts through the use of play, deception, threats, or other types of coercion. Abusers will often groom the children they abuse in to keep them engaged. These grooming activities may include buying gifts, taking trips, or arranging for other special activities the child and their abuser can share in. The use of these persuasive and manipulative tactics result not only in the coercion of the child in sexual and non-sexual acts, but also helps to ensure the child remain silent about the abuse.
Recent statistics estimate that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. The average age for the first abuse encounter is 9.6 years old for a girl and 9.9 years old for a boy. Abuse typically occurs within a long-term, ongoing relationship between the offender and victim, escalates over time, and lasts an average of four years. Ninety-three percent of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser. Of this number, 34.2% of abusers were family members, 58.7% were family acquaintances, and only 7% were strangers. Many child sexual abuse victims never disclose their abuse to anyone. Less than 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the police. At present, there are over 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in the United States. Of this number, approximately 30% reported their abuse to authorities. Most adults who were sexually abused as children do not come to the realization or have the ability to deal with it until after the age of 40. These statistics are only estimates from reputable sources. There are no truly accurate and objective numbers due to a lack of disclosure from most victims of child sexual abuse.
The consequences of experiencing child sexual abuse vary considerably. For some adults, the effects are chronic and debilitating while others experience less adverse effects despite their histories (Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2007). The most critical factors that influence the way that child sexual abuse impacts adults include the frequency and duration of the abuse as well as other circumstances surrounding the abuse including whether the child was also physically or mentally abused. Research suggests that a large proportion of adults that were sexually abused as child are exposed to more than one type of abuse such as physical abuse or neglect. This research also indicates that adults exposed to multiple types of abuse are more likely to experience higher levels of trauma symptoms resulting in unfavorable outcomes (Higgins & McCabe, 2001). These individuals often exhibit symptoms of complex trauma which is reflected by multiple symptoms, disorders, and a combination of cognitive and behavioral outcomes associated with prolonged trauma. This is especially true for those who experienced sexual abuse early in life and whose perpetrator was known to the abused (Price-Robertson, Rush, Wall, & Higgins, 2013). Adverse outcomes of child sexual abuse will often emerge later in childhood and in adolescents and often persists through adulthood (Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2007).
Adverse outcomes of child sexual abuse in adults are vast and varied. While most adult survivors of child sexual abuse do not go on to abuse their own children, there is some evidence to suggest that adults who were abused as children are at an increased risk of perpetuating the cycle of abuse compared to those adults who were not sexually abused as children (Mouzos & Makkai, 2004). Canon, Bonomi, Anderson, Rivara, & Thompson (2010) suggests that adults, particularly women, who were abused as children are at risk of re-victimization later in life. Approximately 72% of women who experienced sexual abuse as a child has been exposed to some type of abuse in adulthood. Classen, Palesh, & Aggarwal (2005) reviewed approximately 90 empirical studies on sexual revictimization and determined a relationship between adults who were sexually abused as a child and sexual revictimization during adulthood.
Adults with a history of child sexual abuse are more susceptible than those who have not endured abuse to experience physical health ailments including diabetes, headaches, gynecological issues, and stroke, among other things (Springer, Sheridan, Kuo, & Carnes, 2007). While there is some uncertainty as to how child sexual abuse relates to physical health issues, some researchers suggest that early life stress impacts the immune system coupled with the propensity for adult survivors to engage in risky behaviors (Wegman & Stetler, 2009). Another consequence of child sexual abuse are mental health issues. The most common mental health problems in adult survivors of child sexual abuse include personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorder, depression, and dissociative identity disorder (Afifif, Boman, Fleisher, & Sareen, 2009). There is also evidence that associates child sexual abuse with attempted suicide. Adults who endured child sexual abuse are twelve times more likely to attempt suicide. This high rate of suicidal ideation in adult survivors of child sexual abuse has been attributed to the increased risk of mental health diagnoses (Gilbert, Spatz Widom, Browne, Fergusson, Webb, & Janson, 2009).
Another issue that impacts adult survivors of child sexual abuse is obesity or eating disorders. Research studies have linked child sexual abuse and obesity (Gilbert, et al., 2009). Rohde, Ichikawa, Simon, Ludman, Linde, Jeffrey, et al. (2008) found that child sexual abuse was associated with double the odds of obesity in middle-aged women. Research conducted by Johnson, Cohen, Kasen, & Brook (2002) determined that young adults with a history of child sexual abuse were five times more likely to have an eating disorder. Stress or mental health diagnoses may increase the likelihood of obesity or an eating disorder in adults with a history of child sexual abuse (Rodriguez-Srednicki & Twaite, 2006). There is also research that shows an association between childhood sexual abuse and substance abuse in adulthood (Simpson & Miller, 2002).
A meta-analysis conducted of 224 studies showed a strong relationship between child sexual abuse and substance abuse problems in both women and men (Simpson & Miller, 2002). The higher prevalence of substance abuse may, in part, be due to the victim’s desire to self-medicate from the symptoms associated with their trauma (Whiting, Simmons, Havens, Smith, & Oka, 2009). Adult survivors of child sexual abuse are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors which can lead to a wide array of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy (Steel & Herlitz, 2005). The factors that may impact one’s decision to engage in promiscuous behaviors include inassertiveness, feelings of inadequacy, and having a strong desire for acceptance and love. There is also evidence that shows that child sexual abuse leads to difficulties finding employment and homelessness. Mental health and substance abuse issues common in child sexual abuse victims may be the greatest contributing factors to these difficulties with maintaining stability as opposed to the abuse itself.
With Jerry Sandusky, the Catholic Diocese, and Bill Cosby, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been inundated with child sex abuse cases and accusations in the past five years. This has prompted both the Pennsylvania State Senate and House of Representatives to take notice and heed the voices of victims and advocates across the Commonwealth. Both the Pennsylvania Senate and the House of Representatives introduced their own bills to address these recent events specifically as they pertain to adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Their proposed legislation addresses the present statute of limitations for criminal and civil charges for adult victims of child sexual abuse.
The rules presently in place as set forth in Section 5533(b)(2) of Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statues provide a statute of limitations of 38 years from the date of a victim reaching his or her age of majority for criminal cases and 12 years from the majority age for civil cases. This means that, at present, an adult survivor of child sexual abuse only has until they reach the age of 50 to bring criminal charges and the age of 30 for civil charges against their abuser(s). As mentioned previously, often adults do not realize the abuse occurred or the impact of said abuse until well later in life. Adults who were sexually abused as children may come forward once they understand the negative affects the abuse has had on them. The statute of limitations as they are at present fail to address these realities. This is evident in cases such as the one against Jerry Sandusky. Many of his victims that came forward were in their twenties, less than ten years away from the expiration of the statute of limitations. If the first victim had not come forward with his accusation, it is possible that the other victims would not have brought charges against Jerry Sandusky, allowing him to remain free to abuse others. It is believed that Jerry Sandusky has been abusing children since the 1970s, though he was only charged with abuse that occurred between 1994 and 2009. This means that there could potentially be other victims out there who, due to the statute of limitations, will be unable to have their chance at justice.
The Pennsylvania Senate Bill, SB261, proposes a change in the statute of limitations for future abuse victims. This bill looks to remove the statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions as well as civil cases against the abusers or anyone who was aware of the abuse and failed to act on what they knew. SB 261 also allows for child victims to bring civil negligence claims against a school district or church that they believe contributed to their abuse through the age of 50. The bill proposed by the Senate does not allow for any retroactive measures for those victims who are passed the statute of limitations. The Pennsylvania House has a similar proposal, HB 612, which seeks to eliminate the statute of limitations set forth in SB 261, however the House bill also has a retroactive clause for those who are beyond the current statute of limitations. HB 612 looks to add a two-year retroactive window from the date of its passage to allow past victims to bring forth civil charges against their abuser or those who knew of the abuse and did nothing. The Supreme Court previously made a ruling that states civil statutes of limitation are for legislative convenience only, and can be changed as each new legislature sees fit. This retroactive window will not apply to criminal charges due to rules that are upheld by the Supreme Court. Once the statute of limitations runs out, even an individual who is guilty can no longer be criminally charged.
a nationwide discussion about statutes of limitations in sexual assault and abuse cases. Mr. Cosby was able to evade the allegations of over 50 women due to expired civil and criminal statutes of limitation. One victim made the cutoff of the statute of limitations law here in Pennsylvania with two weeks to spare and filed charges against Mr. Cosby. A trial on this matter is scheduled for June 5, 2017 in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Cosby is charged with three counts of aggravated assault. Depending on the outcome of this case, it could set a precedent for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to rethink the statute of limitations as proposed by either bill along with allowing retroactive justice for those victims who are past the statute of limitations.
Catalyzed by high profile cases like Bill Cosby’s, conversations centered on whether states are doing enough to allow victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault the opportunity to seek justice, whether criminally or civilly, regardless of how much time has passed? And, f not, what can the states do differently? Since 2015, when allegations against Bill Cosby surfaced, many states have been trying to figure out the best way to proceed with matters such as these, where victims come forward against an abuser but the statute of limitations have elapsed.
The statute of limitations for each state vary and are based on the age the abuse occurred, the age the abuse was realized, the type of abuse, whether the abuse would be considered a felony or misdemeanor at the time of its occurrence, and whether the victim seeks to bring forth criminal or civil charges. Per the National Center for Victims of Crime, almost every state allows for tolling of the statute of limitations in civil cases for abuse of a minor. Tolling simply means that the statute of limitations is paused or delayed for a specific timeframe beyond the age of majority (18). Many states have also adopted additional extensions for cases involving the sexual abuse of a minor. Most of these extensions are based on the discovery rule, or when the victim realizes that the abuse occurred. In this case, delayed discovery is often allowed due to the impact the trauma had on the victim. There are eight states at present for which there are no true statute of limitations on civil or criminal charges for victims whose endured sexual abuse that would be considered a felony, although it is important to note that, with few exceptions, most instances of child sexual abuse are classified as a felony in all states.
As mentioned previously, there is a difference between criminal and civil statutes of limitation, specifically in the allowance for them to be applied retroactively. Since the Supreme Court ruled that civil statutes of limitation are for the convenience of the Legislature, these can be changed at any time by the Legislature presently in power. This means that it is Constitutional for the Legislature to allow victims who have passed the statute of limitations to bring a civil suit at another time. This comes about through the passing of Window legislation which essentially allows those who are outside of the statute of limitations a designated amount of time to bring forth a civil claim against their abusers.
At present, California, Hawaii, Delaware and Minnesota successfully opened these windows in the past, allowing for sexual abuse victims to seek civil damages against their perpetrators. Most states did not see a dramatic number of lawsuits filed during these times, 75 in Hawaii, 175 in Delaware, and 40 in Minnesota, California was an exception. California opened the window in 2003 for one year which allowed for all victims to file civil suits against their abusers. During this time, 1,000 lawsuits were filed against 300 perpetrators. One noteworthy case in California during this window was a case involving the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who settled with 508 victims of sexual abuse by priests to the tune of $660 million. Each victim will receive approximately $1.2 million for their abuse. Given the more recent events in the news, specifically those occurring in Pennsylvania, other states are presently considering Window legislation.
In 2016 six states and one U.S. territory introduced child abuse statute of limitations reform bills. Of these, California and Guam passed the proposed legislation. Maryland, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New York, and Oklahoma are still being debated. The legislation proposed by all five of these states includes retroactive clauses. Hawaii, mentioned previously, already passed retroactive legislation once, but are looking to add a two-year extension. There was also legislation passed in 2016 that was proposed in 2015 by Tennessee and Utah that not only included changes in the statute of limitations but also added Window legislation. California already had a retroactive period back in 2003, so the legislation that was passed only allowed for more time for victims of felony sexual abuse to file civil and criminal charges. Guam did pass Window legislation, but there is no data on its effectiveness at this time due to its infancy.
Aside from the information listed above, there is no specific data to ascertain the impact that the amendment of the statute of limitations or the addition of Window legislation will have. The primary purpose of these proposals, according to Representative Rozzi who introduced HB 612, is so that abusers are held accountable for their actions. He added the Window legislation to the bill to ensure that those victims who want their day in court to have it. While the law will not permit these victims to file criminal suits against their abusers due to statutes of limitations that have passed, Representative Rozzi’s hope is that the Legislature can help the victims by allowing them to seek punitive damages. While he understands that this will not stop the pain and suffering of those who endured the abuse, nor will it make them whole, he feels this will be a step in the healing process for many.
Representative Rozzi also hopes that, aside from allowing the victims to seek the justice they deserve a civil suit, his proposal will also publicly identify the perpetrator. Once the abuser is identified this may give other victims, if there are any, the courage to come forward. Depending on the abuser and the number of victims they had, it is the hope of Representative Rozzi and the co-sponsors of the bill that there will be victims for which the statute of limitations for criminal charges have not passed. Much like the case with Bill Cosby, where all but one victim had passed the statute of limitations but that one victim opted to move forward with a criminal case, Representative Rozzi believes that it may provide some sense of peace for all victims if there is one victim that is still able to file a criminal charge. If a criminal charge is filed, per Rule 404(b) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence, the other victims will have their chance to testify against the abuser in court.
- What arguments for and against the bill can be presented?
Arguments for the bill
Supporters of eliminating the statute of limitations and allowing for the Window legislation here in Pennsylvania include victims, their families, victim’s rights organizations, and many individuals in the legal community. Individuals from both parties and both sides of the legislature have also been in favor of eliminating the statute of limitations and allowing for retroactive justice. This can be largely attributed to the high-profile abuse cases that have come to light over the past decade, especially those cases that have a direct impact on the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The most obvious argument for this legislation, specifically the Window legislation piece, is exemplified in why Representative Rozzi proposed it in the first place. He wanted to give some sense of justice and closure to those victims who are passed the statute of limitations. Even though victims will be unable to file criminal charges against their abuser, they will be given the opportunity to have their day in court. At present, the statutes of limitation truly favor the abuser, so HB 612 looks to shift the power back to the victim. This shift sends an important message as the abuser has likely always held power over his or her victim. At its fundamental level, abuse is about control. By giving the victim this power back, they now have the upper hand and have control over the situation.
Another argument in favor of this legislation focuses on its prevalence then versus now. While abuse has likely always existed as long as there have been people, these crimes were not taken as seriously decades ago as they are today. A lack of knowledge and a flippant attitude about abuse in the past made children afraid to tell adults or authority figures about what was occurring. Twenty years ago, talking about abuse was taboo. There was little mention of it in the media and if it was discussed, it likely focused on the more extreme cases where children were abused and then violently murdered. If you were a victim of abuse in those days, there was some sense of shame that came along with it due to it being so hush hush. Today, abuse is prevalent in the media. People of all walks of life publicly speak out about their own personal experiences with child sexual abuse and share not only their struggles but also their joy. They remind those who have not spoken out that they are not alone and encourage them to speak up about their abuse.
In the past, children did not necessarily realize that the contact they were exposed to was bad or wrong. This may have contributed to fewer children coming forward to tell on their abuser in those times. Today, schools focus a substantial amount of their attention on educating children about good versus bad touching and identify safe people for the children to report any abuse to if it is occurring. There is more education for individuals on recognizing the signs of abuse which helps to provide a starting point for conversation with a child to discuss potential abuse. Many adults are also now considered mandated reporters where, if they suspect any type of abuse happening to any child, they are legally required to report it and it will be investigated by Child Protective Services. There are organizations such as the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), which runs the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline and Online Hotline (RAINN, 2017). These allow individuals who are victims of sexual abuse to receive confidential support either via talk or text. The counselor on the other end can provide encouragement and support for a victim who wants to report his or her abuse.
Another reason in support of extending or eliminating the statute of limitations is the age of the victim at the time of the abuse. Often, a victim is too young at the time the abuse occurred and, as a result, may not report it until the statute of limitations has run out. The trauma resulting from sexual abuse may result in the victim suppressing their memory. By the time the abuse, which has been buried, is uncovered and the impact of that abuse is realized, the statute of limitations may have lapsed. Often, civil tort claims are the only way that a victim can seek justice. There are very few false claims involving child sexual abuse. During California’s retroactive window in 2003, there was only five false claims out of the thousand civil complaints received. Aside from the legal consequences of bringing forth a false claim, no plaintiff will be able to establish a prima facie case without sufficient evidence, meaning if there is not enough evidence to substantiate the claim, it will not move forward. Even if a civil suit is brought forth against an abuser, the plaintiff has the burden of proof.
Arguments against the bill and the financial impact of its passage
Those who oppose the elimination of the statute of limitations and the addition of Window legislation are those individuals and groups who have the most to lose if the changes go through. The group that is most critical of this proposed legislation is the Catholic Church. Catholic sex abuse scandals are plentiful nowadays, but this was not always the case. These allegations against the Roman Catholic Church did not surface until 1985, when a priest in Louisiana pled guilty to 11 counts of sexual abuse against boys. After this, various media outlets started investigating the goings on in the Roman Catholic Church and began to uncover similar allegations and their cover-ups at dioceses across the United States. The information that surfaced caused the Catholic Church to go in to crisis.
As details of these abuses here in the United States were unearthed, victims in other countries came forward, creating a child sex scandal in the Catholic community. Accusations of child sex abuse against priests and other members of the Roman Catholic Church were rampant. Many of these priests were forced to resign or had their rights of ordination removed (defrocked). Catholic bishops were forced to keep this abuse secret and would often send those who were accused to other parishes in similar positions where there was contact with minors. The bishops in the cover-up efforts were forced to retire or resign. Many of the dioceses involved in these scandals opted to settle with the victims instead of being taken to court. To date, the Catholic Church has paid out about four billion dollars in settlements. As a result of these allegations and settlements, the Catholic Church adopted a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse of any kind. While there are still incidents of child sex abuse being reported, they have dropped significantly and most of the time, are now being reported by the church.
Due to monies paid for the abuse settlements and legal fees, there are at least thirteen dioceses who have filed for bankruptcy. The Archdiocese of Portland Oregon was the first to file in July 2004. They did so only hours before trials for child sex abuse were slated to begin. This diocese had already paid out over 53 million dollars in settlement for over 100 child sex abuse claims and claimed it had become financially insolvent. The archbishop at the time stated that bankruptcy was their only option and further emphasized that it was not done to avoid any settlements. This filing will protect parish assets, trust funds, and the money from the school from the victims and require all pending and future lawsuits to be settled in bankruptcy court. In April 2007, the diocese had reached settlements on all outstanding abuse cases and bankruptcy court approved a financial reorganization plan. This comes as a stab in the back to the abuse victims, who ultimately feel that the Vatican, who heads the Catholic Church, should be held liable for any judgments in any sexual abuse cases as opposed to the onus falling on individual dioceses. As abuse allegations for other dioceses mounted, many followed the path of the Archdiocese of Portland by filing for bankruptcy protection in order to postpone their legal issues.
The Catholic Church opposes a change in the statute of limitations, but is specifically focused on defeating the retroactive window for victims. The Church feels that this will result in frivolous lawsuits which will cause financial issues for the archdioceses located in Pennsylvania. The Catholic Church is citing unconstitutionality in its opposition, emphasizing that a precedent has already been set by the Commonwealth in not allowing past victims to file suit. Further, the Catholic Church also feels that this Window legislation is an attack on them based on a Grand Jury investigation into the Johnstown-Altoona Diocese in Pennsylvania. The Grand Jury Report from March 2016 on this matter states “Over many years, hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith. As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves – these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and of the Catholic faith.”
The Grand Jury investigation uncovered hundreds of instances of abuse dating as far back as the 1940’s by at least 50 different religious leaders in the Diocese. Victims reported “having their genitalia fondled; being forced to participate in, watch, or permit masturbation; being forced to perform or receive oral sex on and/or from priests; and being anally raped.” The Grand Jury further noted that the Diocese underwent extensive measures to cover up the abuse and protect its reputation. These cover-ups endangered thousands of children and gave known predators the opportunity to abuse others. In its investigation, the Grand Jury made the following recommendations. First, abolish the state statute of limitations for sexual offenses against minors. While this is not a new recommendation, the Grand Jury cites testimony from a 70-year-old victim who came forward to give testimony about the details of their abuse, the trauma that resulted from the abuse, and the impact that the abuse and resulting trauma has had on their life. The Grand Jury recognized the impact the trauma has on victims saying that “…victims of child sexual abuse never escape their victimization; it is inequitable and unjust to allow their victimizers to escape accountability.”
Next, the Grand Jury recommends opening a window that will allow child sex abuse victims to have their civil cases heard. They cite the need for adult victims to have their day in court and believe that the statute of limitations as they stand leaves insufficient time to seek relief for crimes that are often not uncovered or reported until later in life. Most of the testimony and evidence received by the Grand Jury showed that the victims who wanted to seek relief were past the civil statute of limitations. The report states “The lives of child abuse victims are permanently altered by their assaults; they deserve to be made whole.” Last, the Grand Jury suggests that any criminal misconduct should be reported to law enforcement agencies. While the Grand Jury acknowledges some deficiencies with local law enforcement agencies which perpetuated the abuse, it also ultimately praises them for their hand in exposing the truth about the Johnstown-Altoona Diocese.
It is understandable why the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania feels attacked by the Grand Jury Report. The recommendations contained therein were only based on evidence that was uncovered and testimony that was heard during the investigation and were not based on personal feelings. This testimony includes a long-term history of abuse and coverup in one of Pennsylvania’s dioceses. Given similar investigations of other dioceses throughout the United States, the recommendations should have come as no surprise. The Catholic Church does not want to be held accountable for events that occurred over 60 years ago and in protesting the recommendations, it is negating the suffering of the victims. Many members of the Pennsylvania Catholic Church have spoken out against the amendment of the statute of limitations, specifically any retroactivity provision. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia drafted a letter, sent out to all 219 parishes across Philadelphia, urging members to take a stand against any proposed legislation. In the letter he states “…the Church has worked very hard to support survivors in their healing, to protect our children, and to root this crime out of Church life” and then goes on to say that these bills are “destructive legislation being advanced as a good solution” citing prejudicial content. Archbishop Chaput believes that these bills “fail to support all survivors of abuse equally and it’s a clear attach on the Church, her parishes, and her people.” He then goes on to say that the bill would have a catastrophic financial impact on the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania and would target innocent Catholic parishes and families who will ultimately bear the financial burden of past crimes.”
Other opponents of this bill, including several legislators and members of the legal community cite the unconstitutionality of bills such as these, which allow retroactive justice. While the Supreme Court does not permit a revision of the statutes of limitation for criminal cases, it has found retroactive civil legislation to be constitutional. Under the federal Constitution, retroactive civil legislation is permitted if its intent is clear and the change procedural. This ensures that the legislature considers the potential consequences of such retroactive legislation and has determined that they are outweighed by the benefits of such legislation. Certain government entities and employees, specifically school districts and their employees who have previously been named in child sex abuse cases, are also not happy about this legislation due to the bill waiving sovereign immunity which presently is in place to protect individuals from lawsuits stemming from negligence. With the sovereign immunity clause waived, victims of child sex abuse can sue state and local governments for gross negligence, however there still will be a cap on the amount of money that can be recovered from these entities.
Last, a group of eight small business owners have joined forces to speak out against the passage of this legislation. They feel it is irresponsible given its potential to bankrupt an organization. What these business owners fail to realize is that only two complete bankruptcies have come as a direct result of window legislation and they were of Catholic Churches, including the one in San Diego and another in Wilmington. The others came about to protect assets and avoid the lengthy trials that would have exposed the Catholic Church. There are no known reports of businesses, large or small, going bankrupt as a result of window legislation. Ultimately, the financial impact of the proposed legislation will be felt by those individuals and groups who are found to be guilty in civil court and are ordered to make the victim whole. Based on data from other states who passed window legislation, there should not be any true financial burden to the community.
- What are your specific recommendations, amendments, refinements, or alternate solutions to the problems posed by this bill?
My own personal recommendations are not based on research or data, but on my own experiences. Over the course of my lifetime, I have endured countless acts of sexual abuse by the hands of many. My first experience was at the hand of a boy who was seven years older than me. My dad coached a men’s softball team and this boy’s uncle was on the team and so he was often tasked to babysit me. I did not realize of this abuse until last year, at the age of 37, when I was perusing the Megan’s Law website. When I saw his face, several years of repressed memories came flooding into me. I found him on Facebook and decided to confront him about it. He admitted to the abuse, which surprised me. He gave me some detail as to what he had done to me over the years when he would babysit me. Shortly after that, he deleted his Facebook account, but I made sure to take screenshots of our conversations so that I could save them for posterity.
Another recent realization was sexual abuse that I endured from my uncle. With him, I have always had a feeling that he did something to me, but I was not exactly sure what. Last year at his house for a party, I saw he had a picture of he and I hanging up from when I was a toddler. These vivid memories then came flooding in and at that moment, I had no doubt he abused me. I knew that he had molested my older female cousin, but nothing ever happened to him as a result. I have never asked, but I do not think she nor her mom opted to press charges against him. I did not confront him about what I think happened, though in time I will.
My brother sexually abused me for much of my childhood. For seven years of my life, I was at my brother’s beck and call sexually. Even when he had girlfriends, he would continue to engage in sexual acts to me. He did unspeakable things to me including selling me to his friends for drugs, alcohol, and money. During this time, I was having sex with my brother and five of his friends. I did have my day in court with him where he admitted to engaging in all types of sexual acts with me thousands of times over the course of those years and to selling me to his friends. My parents called the shots in all of this and so the court ordered him to juvenile detention followed by rehab for his addictions. This was not justice to me. He robbed me of a decent chunk of my life and, to this day, continues to try to victimize me which shows me that he has not changed. While I do not see him on any regular basis, when I do he will ogle me, try to touch and be close to me, and make sexual remarks.
While this may be strange to say, I do not see the need to seek civil actions against the babysitter or my uncle at this moment. Although their abuse was obviously damaging to me, it is not yet something that I have fully uncovered or processed. Without knowing the impact the abuse had on me, I do not feel like I can seek punitive damages. My brother is a different story. I would not hesitate at all to take him to court and get every cent I can out of him. I am fully aware of the impact that the abuse from him and his friends has had on me and my life. I am aware of the trauma that I suffered and the effects of it that are still present today. My brother not only robbed me of my childhood, but over those years, of money and gifts that my parents were saving for me. My brother emptied my savings account and traded valuable family heirlooms including a baby diamond ring and a silver tea set to fund his habits. My parents also depleted my college savings to pay for my brother to go to rehab. While I do understand that was their choice, had he not done engaged in activities that necessitated rehab, I would financially be in a better place. If the window legislation opens and I am given the opportunity to sue my brother civilly, I will be one of the first people in line to do so.
- Are there issues that the bill leaves unaddressed?
I could not find any specific data supporting issues that the bill, as it stands, leaves unaddressed. A reform of the statute of limitations and the addition of a two-year window legislation for victims of child sexual abuse, if passed will help to ensure that justice is served for all survivors of child sexual abuse that wish to come forward.
- Summarize your major points and conclusions
In summary, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania House bill HB 612, introduced by Representative Rozzi, proposes to eliminate both the criminal and civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse or assault claims and to allow for a two-year retroactive window on for civil cases. This means that past victims of crimes would be given a two-year window of opportunity to file a civil complaint against their abuser and seek punitive damages, exposing the perpetrator and holding individuals and institutions accountable. To date, 37 states have eliminated criminal statutes of limitations for felony child sexual abuse charges and another eight have approved window legislation. Opponents of the bill believe that the window legislation is unconstitutional and will open entities to frivolous lawsuits which could potentially bankrupt them. However, research has shown that the legislature is permitted to allow a retroactive window in civil cases. Further, there are very few false claims involving child sexual abuse. During California’s retroactive window occurring in 2003, only five false claims were received out of over a thousand. It is important to note that that a civil complaint will not automatically result in a judgment for the plaintiff. Instead, the plaintiff must substantiate his or her claims with sufficient evidence to move the case forward. There is no data supporting window legislation’s contribution to bankruptcy for any entity. While specific dioceses of the Catholic Church filed for bankruptcy protection, often hours before they were set to appear in court for child sexual abuse charges that fell under the present statutes of limitations, only two of these dioceses were successful in obtaining Federal bankruptcy protection. There have been no schools, government agencies, or businesses that went bankrupt as a result.
Support for the bill shows that often, victims of child sexual abuse do not realize the abuse occurred or feel its impact until later in life. At present, there are over 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in the United States. Of this number, approximately 30% reported their abuse to authorities. Most adults who were sexually abused as children do not come to the realization or have the ability to deal with it until after the age of 40. The consequences of child sexual abuse vary, but most victims are impacted long-term by the trauma to some degree. Given this information, the statute of limitations are they are today truly favor the abuser. It is important to acknowledge this fact and allow the victim to have control over a situation in which they were once powerless. This allows the victim to take the power back. While abuse has always existed for as long as there have been people, these crimes were not in the spotlight like they are today. A lack of knowledge and flippant attitude about abuse made children afraid to tell adults or authority figures what was happening. Twenty years ago, when I was abused, it was taboo to talk about. Today, abuse is prevalent in the media and in society. People are no longer ashamed to be victims, but are proud to be survivors, speaking publicly about their abuse and urging others to speak up if they have been abused. It is important to allow the victims to come forward in their own time.
At present, the bill sits in the House Judiciary committee for review. The House Judiciary committee will debate and vote on the legality of the bill as it pertains to Pennsylvania statutes, and the Constitutions of both the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and of the United States. HB 612 is not currently on the agenda for 2017, making a 2018 vote more likely. The bill’s progress is slow, but recent events in the news including allegations and an upcoming trial against Bill Cosby and the conviction of Jerry Sandusky have prompted continued discussion and support for the bill.