More Time to Prosecute Child Sexual Abuse Approved by Pennsylvania House

Written by™ on behalf of Stewart J. Eisenberg with Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, P.C..

More Time to Prosecute Child Sexual Abuse Approved by Pennsylvania House

Does child sexual abuse become less of a punishable crime as time passes? Should there be a statute of limitations to put time limits on when the victim can file charges? Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi put this another way when he said, "Do you stand with victims, or do you stand with pedophiles of the institutions that protect those pedophiles?"

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it appears the Pennsylvania state House has chosen to stand with victims. This is apparent from the 171-23 vote to open a temporary two-year window that would allow survivors older than 30 years old to sue. (In Pennsylvania, molestation of a minor was a crime that was no longer punishable in the court of law once the victim reached age 50.) If this policy change is confirmed by the final House vote, it will empower victims of child sexual abuse to seek justice decades after their sexual victimization.

This is likely due, in part, by the Catholic clergy and the discovery that roughly 1,000 children were molested by over 300 "predator priests." The abuse continued for seven decades.

Time Limit Sexual Violence

Not every state is the same when it comes to how long a victim is allowed to wait before it is too late to charge the perpetrator. These time limits are a "statute of limitations", and they exist to protect innocent people from being charged due to "unreliable witness testimony" caused by memories fading or getting mixed up over time. The problem is that they can also wind up protecting the guilty. Some states have shorter limits while other states have no limits at all.

Every state views the following items differently:

  1. When the statute of limitations should begin for a sexual assault case
  2. If there is ever a reason to justify pausing the statute of limitations
  3. What is the fair amount of time for the survivors to prosecute the offender?

With all of that said, it is important to understand that if someone is ever assaulted, it is best to have the sexual assault examination and collection of evidence procedures completed as soon as possible (within 24 hours.) Most states allow 72-120 hours after an assault, but it is worthwhile to be certain about your own local policies. Go here to learn the statutes of limitation regarding sexual violence in your state.

Victims' Struggle Vs. Time Limits

Sometimes the statutes of limitations are problematic for individuals that are enduring a particularly difficult time coping with what happened to them. This is more the rule than the exception. The National Sexual Violence Center reports that "more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault." Many victims experience such a shocking trauma that it shakes them to their core. Often times the trauma is so severe that it causes the victim to struggle with profound shame and debilitating fear for the rest of their lives. A majority of these individuals don't feel capable of reporting for decades, if ever.

Still, some individuals get to a point where they subconsciously block the nightmarish event from conscious memory. This means that for some people, they may have little to no memory at all until it suddenly comes back up in such a way that they remember every detail as though it just happened. Studies are continuing on this subject regarding the burying of painful memories deep in hidden parts of the unconscious. It is often called memory repression, and it can re-traumatize survivors of sexual abuse on many levels. The latter is what happened to Tim Lennon, President of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) who was abused by a priest in Iowa. He didn't remember for almost 30 years, but now that he remembers he has become a strong voice for survivors of sexual violence.

Case Examples Where Time Limits Harmed the Survivor

In addition to this case regarding the Catholic clergy, Time magazine has pointed out that there have been other times where the state policy harmed a survivor.

  • Out of the 45 survivors of sexual abuse by Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky, there was one individual that barely surpassed the cutoff by a mere nine months.
  • For individuals coming out regarding the #MeToo movement and movie producer Harvey Weinstein, many of his survivors fall outside of the time limit.

Importance of Legal Support

Sometimes the statutes of limitations actually have a considerable amount of loopholes. Many times, clients find that they have to not only fight the perpetrator, but also the system. Almost every time, survivors are glad to have a qualified lawyer in their corner to help them determine their legal options and the best path to justice.

If you want more information regarding this issue, please contact Stewart Eisenberg.  (888)644-4288


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