Rally for a Window: Advocates for Child Sex Abuse Survivors Call on PA Senate to Pass Child Victims Legislation

WENY [Horseheads NY]

September 20, 2021

By Renata Stiehl

HARRISBURG, PA (WENY) — Advocates for survivors of childhood sexual abuse rallied outside of the Pennsylvania state capitol Monday afternoon, calling for Senate action on a bill that would allow for lawsuits to be filed against their abusers. They’re calling for passage of House Bill 951, which was approved by overwhelming bipartisan support in the House in April. It then sent to the Senate, where the advocates say Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward is stopping it from moving forward.

“We’ve had enough. We have had enough. We are not going away, not today, not tomorrow,” said Kathryn Robb, Executive Director of CHILD USAdvocacy, and a survivor of child sexual abuse. She was one of several speakers rallying on the capitol steps Monday, urging Senator Kim Ward to put House Bill 951 up for a vote.

Survivors of child sex abuse are rallying for a window to be able to file a legal claim against their abuser – whether it be an individual or an institution or an organization. Some say their abuse happened decades ago, but that doesn’t mean their predator shouldn’t be held accountable. Many victims take years to come forward; the average age of reporting child sexual abuse is 52 years old, according to Child USA. Those in Harrisburg today are calling on Senator Ward to put the legislation up for a vote, saying failure to act is a disservice to Pennsylvanians who were abused. 

“It’s really disappointing to me, because I think it sends the message to survivors that their lies don’t matter, their feelings don’t matter, that one person doesn’t care about their lives,” explained Grace French, a survivor of child sexual abuse and Founder and President of The Army of Survivors. ” It’s important to value the lives of survivors, by giving them this opportunity to seek justice.”

Kathryn Robb with Child USAdvocacy is a lawyer, and legislative advocate who works across the country to support meaningful child sexual abuse legislation. Also a survivor, she says she won’t stop fighting until Pennsylvania passes legislation to give victims an opportunity to hold their abusers accountable and seek justice. 

“I also know that for so many survivors, myself included, there’s something about saying ‘I can stop this. I can stop other children from going through the pain that I went through as a child.’ And that’s really important,” she explained. 

Nineteen other states, along with Washington, DC and Guam, have passed similar windows for child sex abuse claims. Most recently, New York’s look-back window saw more than 10,800 survivors come forward with civil claims against their abusers. 

“The New York Child Victims Act has identified hundreds of hidden child predators.And it’s not all catholic churches, sports fans – in fact it’s less than 50%,” said Professor Marci Hamilton, Founder and CEO of CHILD USA

Senate Majority Leader Ward has said the legislation has constitutional issues that need to be addressed. The victims’ advocates say it’s the job of lawmakers to do just that – and their failure to act is no excuse. 

“The people hurting from the failure to pass this bill are Pennsylvania’s parents. Every parent in this state is in the dark as to where it is their children are at risk,” Hamilton said. 

Senator Ward sent the following statement to WENY’s sister Station, Erie News Now.

“A retroactive window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue for expired claims has no quick fix as there is neither case law nor legal precedent to support it in Pennsylvania. Additionally, this important issue affects all Pennsylvanians and many entities including school districts and community organizations. For these reasons, the constitutional amendment provides the strongest path to justice, as the constitutional amendment not only allows all Pennsylvanians to weigh in on an issue that has real and important effects on them, but it also properly amends the law for the victims to seek the justice they want. While the legal and emotional aspects of this issue are valid, the fact remains that as legislators we have to address these issues in a legal manner and according to our Pennsylvania constitution which differs from other state constitutions.”