Pennsylvania’s sexual abuse laws leave survivors conflicted

Associated Press

Nov. 30, 2019

By Marc Levy

When Pennsylvania overhauled its child sexual abuse laws this week after a years-long battle, absent from the bill-signing ceremony were some of the people who had worked hardest for the changes.

Some sexual-abuse survivors and victim advocates felt conflicted by the compromise package: Missing was a cornerstone of the recommendations by last year’s landmark grand jury report on child sexual abuse inside six of Pennsylvania’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses.

That recommendation was for a two-year window in state law to allow now-adult victims of child sexual abuse to sue over claims that are past Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.

Republicans who control Pennsylvania’s Senate, in a party-line vote, defeated it, 28-20, after longtime opposition by bishops and insurers. As an alternative, they offered the longer, more deliberative process of amending the state constitution to create a two-year window to sue.

That has left survivors and victim advocates knowing they have little choice but to trust lawmakers to pass a resolution to amend the constitution in the 2021-22 legislative session. Then they may have to fend off a legal challenge or a well-funded campaign to defeat it in a statewide voter referendum.

“We had hope up until the end,” said Mary McHale, a Reading resident who told the grand jury of her experience 30 years ago as a 17-year-old in a Catholic high school. “And we’re not done. We’re not finished, this is just a different route. But it’s hard when something’s right there and it’s tangible, and you have hope and then it’s gone again.”

Among the provisions signed into law is one giving future victims of child sexual abuse until their 55th birthday to sue their perpetrators and institutions that may have covered it up.

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