Child Sex Abuse...

By Thomas P. Murt
The Phillyburbs
January 15, 2012

Grand jury investigations into the recent child sex abuse scandals that have rocked Penn State and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have placed the issue of child sex abuse onto the front burner here in Pennsylvania — where it belongs.

I serve on the Child and Youth Committee and have listened to and read many hours of excruciatingly painful testimony from victims and their families describing the most heinous sexual abuse imaginable. The institutional cover-ups and subsequent ill-treatment of victims have made these terrible situations even worse. It's a sad day, indeed, when concern for institutional risk management trumps uncovering the truth.

I recently listened to testimony concerning two perpetrators who were Franciscan Friars and who taught at Archbishop Ryan High School in Philadelphia when I was on the faculty there. As a life-long Catholic, a former parochial school teacher, and a religious education instructor, I am filled with anguish over these incidents.

I am also a proud Penn State alumnus and I still teach at the PSU Abington campus. I believe that Penn State is a jewel in the crown of our great commonwealth. Thus, everything I've learned about the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the devastation it has wrought pains me to the core.

Rather than allow myself to become protective of the alleged and convicted criminals in these institutions that I hold most dear, I am compelled by my conscience and by my office to act on behalf of the victims until the perpetrators have been punished and justice has been served.

It's not going to be easy. But, it is up to me and to all elected state officials, regardless of their affiliations, to act with integrity, strength, and righteousness — right now.

It's time to open the window.

First, we in state government must encourage — not suppress — the public conversation about the sexual abuse of children.

Recent studies have shown that one in four girls and one in six boys has been sexually abused, and more than 90 percent are molested by someone they know. And these statistics are known to be low due to a gross underreporting of child sex crimes.

I have heard protests that the media and the politically correct crowd are making too much of this issue — blowing it out of proportion. For far too long, not enough was made of the sexual abuse of children and that's why we're in such a predicament today. It must be reported and discussed. The victims must be validated and the criminals punished.

We need to open the window and allow the light of truth to shine into this dark place.

Second, state legislators must act to expand the current statute of limitations for child sex abuse.

Originally designed to set the maximum time that legal proceedings may be initiated after an abuse event, the rationale is that over time memories can fade, making it difficult to litigate. In reality, it protects abusers from both criminal prosecution and civil liability and discourages victims from ever opening their mouths. It also prevents the accused who are innocent from going to trial and clearing their good names.

Often victims are unable to come forward until after years of therapy and support, and the recovery phase is frequently preceded by decades of emotional turmoil, substance abuse, etc. A colleague here in Harrisburg revealed publicly for the first time that she was raped as a young girl at the age of 12. She is now a senior citizen. It took 66 years for this educated, dignified woman to find the strength to share her story and to encourage other victims to come forward.

She is not alone. People who are subjected to sexual abuse as children are a unique class of victim that requires an extended statute of limitations to allow them to come forward with their claims. Only by opening this window can we recognize their abuse and give them the respect they deserve as human beings and as U.S. citizens, allowing justice to take its course.

Henry Louis Mencken said, "If you want peace, then work for justice." The elected officials of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania need to work together right now to give victims of child sex abuse an avenue to pursue their justice and finally have peace.

The pain and the shame — both for the victims and for these institutions — will not go away as long as the window remains closed tight, preventing the truth from coming to light and maintaining the current restrictive statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims

It's time to open the window. Anything less is justice denied.

Rep. Thomas P. Murt serves the 152nd Legislative District. He is the secretary of the Child and Youth Committee and chairs the Health and Human Services Subcommittee on Mental Health. The 152nd Legislative District includes Lower Moreland, Upper Moreland, Hatboro and Bryn Athyn, as well as portions of Upper Dublin and Northeast Philadelphia.


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