Get window open to help survivors as soon as possible

The Daily Item [Sunbury PA]

September 22, 2021

Survivors of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania want justice, no more or no less. They have long deserved it, but continue to face more roadblocks than they should.

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse deserve a vote in the state Senate on whether they will be granted a window of time to file civil lawsuits against their abusers.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, said there are no plans to move legislation to allow survivors of child sex abuse to sue organizations that cover-up for child predators. Ward said the legislation is unconstitutional.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who rallied with abuse survivors in Harrisburg, disagrees.

He called Ward’s blockage “pathetic,” arguing Senate leaders won’t push legislation forward due to pressure from lobbyists and the insurance industry.

Proposed legislation would open a two-year window to sue even if the statute of limitations had expired in their case. Earlier this year, a vote on House Bill 951 that would open the window passed the state House, 149-52. It has yet to move in the Senate and seems unlikely following Ward’s statements this week.

“People who do that to kids are terrible human beings,” Ward said. “Like it or not, they still have the rights that were afforded them. So I don’t find that to be weak, I find that to be a position of strength.”

State lawmakers could begin the constitutional amendment process again. The state had seemingly pushed the issue over the finish line earlier this year, following the lengthy process to amend the constitution that includes the passage of two identical bills through consecutive sessions of the General Assembly. That path was destroyed before the primary election earlier this year when the Pennsylvania Department of State inexcusably botched the public notice of the amendment on the ballot, forcing the issue back to the starting line.

The earliest a change to the constitution could come is 2023. Legislation could provide almost immediate help and the window would just about be closed by the time the amendment process was completed again.

According to Marci Hamilton, founder and CEO of ChildUSA, a Philadelphia-based think tank focusing on child sex abuse and statute of limitations laws, 18 states have passed legislation opening windows for lawsuits by abuse survivors during the 16 years since a similar bill was first introduced in Pennsylvania in 2005. Hamilton said that total includes a dozen states since Pennsylvania’s grand jury report into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church three years ago.

So justice is delayed, again, for victims of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania as politics get in the way of something everyone knows is the right thing to do.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.