Amendment Allowing Child Sexual Abuse Survivors To Sue Perpetrators Could Be Years Away

WESA [Pittsburgh PA]

March 30, 2021

By Kevin Gavin, Marylee Williams, Laura Tsutsui & Isabelle Schmeler

On today’s program: Survivors of clergy sexual abuse may have to wait two more years for a chance to sue their abusers; the organizer of a Pittsburgh “Stop Asian Hate” protests explains why it took a mass shooting for some to mobilize; and a local theater group is using the postal service to share art with others.

[AUDIOSome survivors of sexual abuse are still waiting for the chance to sue perpetrators
(0:00 — 7:30)]

Commonwealth residents who were the victims of clergy sexual abuse could end up waiting two years or more before they get special legal window to pursue civil cases against their abusers. 

This came after the Wolf administration failed to provide proper public notice of an amendment passed by the legislature to be on the May ballot.

Then the state Senate halted an emergency measure to amend the state constitution. 

“After careful consideration, it has been determined by the majority that this matter does not meet the Emergency Status criteria and does not correct the failure by the Wolf administration as it still does not properly vet this matter with the public,” said Senate Republican Leader Kim Ward of Westmoreland County. “In fact, elevating this matter to emergency status further by-passes the public vetting process denying Pennsylvanians proper consideration of the proposed amendment.” 

“We thought we had the arguments, for example the retraumatization of the victims seems to me to create an emergency,” says Marci Hamilton. She’s a professor law at the University of Pennsylvania and CEO and legal director for CHILD USA, a nonprofit academic think tank focused on ending child abuse and neglect. 

Emergency constitutional amendments need to be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate in one session, and then get approval from voters. 

“What they passed so far is a regular constitutional amendment which would create a two year window [for survivors to sue perpetrators],” says Hamilton. “But the problem as we’ve learned with constitutional amendments is they’re complicated. They’re supposed to be difficult to pass.”

Regular constitutional amendmendments have to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then get approved by voters, which means it will be another two years until commonwealth residents can vote on it.

Hamilton says instead of the emergency amendment, advocates for survivors of sexual abuse are instead hoping for a law opening the statutory window to pass this year. Hamilton says this would solve the emergency for the victims. 

“What we’re hearing [from victims] is that this is just a roller coaster and enough,” says Hamilton. “The whole purpose of statute of limitations reform is in fact to meet their trauma, to find a way to get justice. We’ve lost survivors, which has been tragic, who haven’t been able to make it through this stressful process.”

Organizer of ‘Stop Asian Hate’ protest is gearing up for more action
(7:31 — 13:41) 

More and more over the last year, members of Asian American and Pacific Islander community were the targets of racist remarks and even instances of violence.  

The Atlanta shootings that left eight people dead, six of whom were Asian women, sparked rallies and protests nationwide to “Stop Asian Hate.”

“After being involved with multiple protests last year regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and regarding how to be anti-racist and dismantle systems of opporession, I felt it was my duty as an Asian American to create a space where AAPI members could collectively grieve, to work through our shared trauma, and to create a space where our voices could be heard,” says organizer Jake Barney. They planned a rally the weekend after the shooting.

Actress Sandra Oh, who’s famous for her role as Cristina Yang on the television show, “Grey’s Anatomy,” even spoke at the protest. She was in town filming the Netflix show, “The Chair.”

Barney says Sandra Oh showing up was a highlight, but it mattered more to them that this action created space for Asian and Asian Americans to share experiences. 

“Anti-Asian racism definitely isn’t new by any means. We’ve faced both social and systemic types of oppression throughout the years,” says Barney. “If you look at American history, we have a very long and problematic timeline of oppressing Asian people and the pandemic has just made it worse.”

Barney says they’re planning another protest sometime next month and hope to donate money to local Asian-led, woman and femme-led and sex worker organizations.