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Pennsylvania: Home to Two High-Profile Child Sexual-Abuse Scandals, Eyeing Change

February 27, 2013


Our Facebook page is updated weekdays to apprise interested parties about the many aspects pertaining to child sexual abuse. We cull reports from world media and provide links for readers. By its nature, the page can seem unremittingly grim.

Now and then, however, news comes along that at least seems to ameliorate the inevitable feelings of hopelessness about the fight against pedophilia. One such report is emerging from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. What better place, one would think, than a state that has been home relatively recently to a couple of the world’s most high-profile stories of child sexual abuse.

The following is from an article earlier this year in the Uniontown Herald-Standard:
“A group of state lawmakers who said they were frustrated that the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky and the [Philadelphia] Roman Catholic sex abuse scandals were not enough to move legislation out of committee last year, announced plans Wednesday [Jan. 23] to reintroduce a bill that would remove the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse.
“Where the statute of limitations has expired, Democratic Reps. Mike McGeehan and Louise Bishop said another bill would open a two-year window that would allow victims of child sexual abuse to report their story to file civil lawsuits.
“‘It is time to put victims first,’ said Bishop, who said she was 12 when her stepfather began to sexually abuse her.
“‘I didn’t know how to handle it,” she said. “I knew if I told my mother, it would hurt her. I knew if I told my sisters and brothers I [would be] talking about their father and they wouldn’t like it and I would be even more isolated than I was. And if I told my grandfather, he would take his legal shotgun and would have blown his head off.”
Those of us who deal daily with the realities of pedophilia are eminently aware of the power sex-abusers have over young victims. One recent news report described how many pedophiles are turning toward abusing ever-younger children with hopes that the victims will lack the comprehension and wherewithal to inform adults about what has happened to them.
The two House bills in Pennsylvania would get rid of the statutes of limitation in criminal and civil child-sex-abuse cases and also would grant those whose S.O.L. periods have expired two more years to bring cases. While the proposed legislation amounts to favorable news to many, it’s well worth noting that similar bills died at the end of the state’s most recent legislative session.
Advocates speak of the S.O.L. bills (similar efforts have been successful in California and Delaware) as a means of confronting Pennsylvania’s Catholic hierarchy.
“Marci Hamilton,” the newspaper story explains, is “an attorney known for her expertise in church and state law and the author of a book on how the country can better protect children from predators. [She] said: ‘The only way the truth will come out is if this Legislature has the guts to look at the Catholic conference and say we want the truth and we’re not playing your game of secrecy anymore.’”
Another expert in Pennsylvania added that institutionalized cover-ups of pedophilia also have been attempted in such organizations as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Boy Scouts of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Hassidic Jewish community.
But child advocates worry that the attempt at S.O.L. reform will once again languish in Pennsylvania. The frustration of advocates was caught particularly well by writer Tara Murtha in a Jan. 29 piece in Philadelphia Weekly when she quoted Jeff Dion of the National Center for Victims of crime:
“After all the grand jury reports, after Penn State, after the release of the Boy Scout secret files, after the criminal convictions of church officials who knew that they were not going enough to protect kids . . . what is PA waiting for?”
Pedophiles, he added, “know they don’t need to keep kids quiet forever. Just long enough.”

Our attorneys are highly experienced in childhood sexual abuse law and offer free initial consultations to potential clients. We are also willing to assist other attorneys in sexual abuse cases. Please call 206-257-3590, or email us directly. Conversations will be kept confidential, and even if you are unsure about a lawsuit, often we can direct you to the assistance you need. You will be treated with compassion and respect.

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