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November 26, 2019

Three new Pennsylvania laws will protect victims of sexual abuse

Gov. Tom Wolf signed the legislation on Tuesday

Three new Pennsylvania laws, written in the wake of the clergy abuse investigation, will bolster the rights of victims of child sexual abuse and extend the statute of limitations to report those crimes.

The bills, signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday, follow recommendations from the 2018 grand jury report that concluded more than 1,000 children had been molested by Catholic clergymen in Pennsylvania since the 1940s. 

The two-year long investigation conducted by Attorney General Josh Shapiro uncovered more than 300 abusive clergy members in Pennsylvania. The report noted the statute of limitations had run out for most of the victims and criminal charges could not be filed against their alleged abusers. 

One piece of legislation, backed by Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat from Muhlenberg, extends the statutes of limitations for criminal and civil actions. Now, in cases with victims between the ages of 18 and 24, law enforcement has 20 years to prosecute the case criminally. And victims ages 18-24 have have until age 30 to file a civil lawsuit against their attackers. The law also provides state-funded counseling for victims.

“After tireless and passionate work on the part of so many, especially countless brave victims, these bills will today become law, and victims of one of the most unimaginable forms of abuse will receive the support and rights they deserve,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. “And while we celebrate the monumental victory of many survivors of childhood sexual abuse finally receiving their opportunity for justice, we must continue pushing forward until every survivor, of every age, has the chance to tell his or her story.”

The two other laws – sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, a Republican from Montgomery County, and Rep. Tarah Toohil, a Republican from Luzerne County – will increase penalties for mandated reporters, like health care workers and teachers, who do not report instance of sexual abuse and will allow victims to speak to authorities even instances when doing so could violate signed non-disclosure agreements.

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