A local lawmaker, a local victim advocacy center and district attorneys expressed their support for this week’s vote from the state House to eliminate the statute of limitations for future child sex crimes.
On Tuesday, the state House voted 180-15 to approve a bill that changes the age limit from 30 to 50 for people who were abused as children to bring civil lawsuits.
It applies retroactively so that past abuse victims can sue. It would also prevent organizations from claiming immunity from lawsuits when they have acted with gross negligence.
The proposal also would eliminate the statute of limitations in future criminal cases for a list of more severe crimes that involve child victims. That provision, however, is not retroactive.
State Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California, said he joined the House majority to approve the legislation after emotional testimony.
“The testimony surrounding the measure was among the most difficult and disturbing I have ever witnessed or ever want to consider,” Daley said. “We can only hope and pray that the horrors inflicted on some of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens can somehow be ameliorated by the legislation.”
Daley said the legislation would abolish the criminal statute of limitations for future criminal prosecutions for serious child sexual abuse crimes relating to human trafficking, sexual servitude, rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, institutional sexual assault, aggravated indecent sexual assault and incest.
“If the statute of limitations is removed, we would hopefully anticipate hearing from victims that perhaps were prevented from having their cases heard and prosecuted,” said Michelle Grant Shumar, the executive director of the Crime Victims’ Center of Fayette County.
The center is an advocacy agency that provides direct services to male and female victims in cases that include, but aren’t limited to, child physical and sexual abuses.
“Anything, be it legislatively or otherwise, that would assist and support victims to have their voices heard and aid them in their healing process, we would wholeheartedly support,” Shumar said.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he’s in favor of repealing the statute of limitations regarding child sex crimes.
“The circumstances of these cases are such that many times people are not able to address that they’ve been abused for a considerable amount of time — even years later,” Peck said. “If justice can be done by repealing the statute of limitations for some people, then I’m in favor of that.”
Greene County District Attorney Marjorie Fox said the change in the law will further encourage people who were victims as children to have the courage to come forward about the crimes committed against them, as the bill is a reflection of the times.
“I think the schools, the state police, the police in general and the public’s awareness has increased tremendously regarding child sexual assault,” Fox said, adding that it’s no longer the inclination to sweep an incident under the rug and not talk about it. “I do think it shows the legislatures that all those who asked for this change in the law recognized that this is a crime and it should be prosecuted.”
The measure will go to the Senate where it will need approval before going to the governor.