Advocates for Statute of Limitation Reform Seize "Tipping Point," "Movement" to Demand Changes
By Ivey DeJesus
March 14, 2016
Calling the latest grand jury investigation into clergy sex abuse a tipping point in their cause, a cadre of advocates for victims of child sexual abuse on Monday continued to seize the momentum created by that report to reiterate calls for reform in the statute of limitations.
Led by Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat and clergy sex abuse survivor, the advocates, flanked by several dozen survivors, made impassioned appeals at the podium that thundered throughout the Main Rotunda of the state Capitol.
"To my colleagues in this building, I urge you to stand with me and pass our bills. Let's get this done," said Rozzi, who is pushing legislation sponsored by Rep. Tom Murt (R- Montgomery/Phila.) calling for a two-year window in the law to allow victims whose legal bounds have expired to seek legal redress for their abuse.
"They want their truth to come out and I'm here to fight for their justice," Rozzi said.
The rally was attended by a large contingency of the press, which advocates said was proof that their fight, once hardly a bleep on the news, was now gaining wide coverage.
The rally comes two weeks after Attorney General Kathleen Kane released the findings of a two-year grand jury investigation into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese that found widespread abuse of children and its cover-up. Investigators concluded that diocesan officials and leaders knew of hundreds of cases of clergy sex abuse but concealed it, at times shuffling priests around from one church or school to another location.
Kane has reiterated that the ongoing investigation could lead to charges being filed. The statute of limitations regarding all the priests named in the grand jury investigation have expired.
Kane urged members of the General Assembly to move on the legislation to protect children.
|State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, speaks at a child sex abuse statute of limitations rally at the state Capitol. Victims, advocates and legislators take part in a child sex abuse statute of limitations reform news conference and rally in the state Capitol Rotunda, March 14, 2016. Dan Gleiter, PennLive.com|
"Children don't ever get to move past that horrible abuse ever," she said.
Kane noted how reviving expired statutes of limitations was constitutional in Pennsylvania.
In a thunderous appeal, Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, said: "How can we have a statute of limitations on our kids who have been molested when you know how difficult it is for them to speak.....there is no time for pain. This should be a piece of legislation that is easy to pass."
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale referred to "powerful people" trying to repress reform, calling their efforts "sick and demented."
"It does happen," he said.
DePasquale said he was confident reform would be enacted and challenged "the person" who would dare file suit against the law.
"That would be an outrage," he said.
He urged legislators to "muster the courage to stand up to special interests" and amend the laws.
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law expert and author on statute of limitation reform, called the recent Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report "a tipping point" in the movement to reform the law. Hamilton drew attention to the large contingency of press, which she said 10 years ago, at a similar rally, was virtually non-existant.
Hamilton said the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the church's legislative arm in the Legislature, was "the only obstacle" at reforming the law.
Brenda Dick, a victim of child sexual abuse from Altoona, pleaded through tears for the law to be changed. Her abuse - at the hands of a family member for about five years - was "life transforming" she said.
Under current laws, victims of child sexual abuse are barred from seeking civil action after they reach the age of 30. That leaves out most if not all the victims in the latest grand jury report. Victims can bring criminal charges against offenders until they reach 50 years of age — but only if the victim turned 18 years old after Aug. 27, 2002. The law allows victims older than that to report until their 30th birthday.
Gainey has sponsored a bill that would remove all limitations in such crimes.