State House Overwhelmingly Approves Proposal to Aid Victims of Child Sex Abuse
By Liam Migdail-Smith
April 13, 2016
The state House broke into applause Tuesday as lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a proposal to give victims of child sex abuse more time to come forward.
The House approved a bill that revamps the statutes of limitation for child sex abuse victims. The 180-15 vote marks a victory for victims and their advocates who have long pushed for the legislation.
[e given them a little bit of hope,” said state Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Muhlenberg Township Democrat who has spearheaded the reform effort. “Justice has been denied for a long time. But my message to victims is justice is right around the corner.” - See more at: http:]
The plan would eliminate the age limit for victims to pursue criminal charges and give victims until age 50 to bring civil cases against their alleged abusers and the organizations that shield them. The limit now is age 30 for civil cases and age 50 for criminal cases.
The change for civil cases would be retroactive, allowing victims now older than 30 to file suits until they reach age 50.
For more than a decade, similar proposals stalled amid opposition from the insurance industry and Catholic Church. But the plan picked up new momentum recently in the wake of a report from state prosecutors that found rampant abuse by Altoona-area priests was concealed for decades.
The bill now heads to the state Senate. A spokesman for Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Greenleaf plans to review the bill.
Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, said last week that Wolf is “committed to working diligently to further the ability of victims to come forward” and will review the plan if it reaches his desk.
Tuesday's vote came after more than 90 minutes of debate. That culminated in a solemn and emotional Rozzi recounting his own case of childhood sexual assault by a priest, his guilt over not coming forward sooner and the stories of friends who took their own lives as they reckoned with their abuse.
“I have struggled every day of my life,” Rozzi said. “All I want is justice.”
Most lawmakers who spoke supported the plan, saying it would bring overdue justice for victims. A few voiced concerns about the bill.
Rep. Greg Vitali, a Delaware County Democrat, said eliminating the criminal limit would make it difficult for those accused to defend themselves. He said victims should be able to come forward by age 50 or move on.
Rep. Paul Schemel, a Franklin County Republican, said he worried a provision removing immunity for public schools and governments would open those entities up to having to pay major damages.
Rozzi's bill gained new attention after the state Attorney General's office reported widespread cases of the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Diocese of Altoona. State prosecutors allege that leaders of the diocese covered up the abuse of dozens of children for years.
Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org