Renewed Push to Update Statute-of-Limitations Laws in Child Sex Abuse Cases

WHPTV: Saying the move is long overdue and flanked by high-profile reform advocates, state Reps. Louise Williams Bishop and Michael P. McGeehan, both D-Phila., today announced a renewed push to update archaic statute-of-limitations laws in child sexual abuse cases at a Capitol Rotunda news conference.

Bishop and McGeehan said their respective bills are patterned after ones they introduced in the last two-year legislative session but died after being inexplicably bottled up in the committee process.

Bishop has reintroduced her legislation, now known as H.B. 237, which would abolish the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil lawsuits in cases of child sexual abuse.

“Child sexual abuse victims are slowly beginning to break the barriers of silence; however, they still face a daunting procedural obstacle — the statute of limitations,” said Bishop, who came out last year as a victim of child sexual abuse. “Instead of suppressing legislation that would lift the statute of limitations, we should be voting these game-changing bills out of committee and the House, so more victims can seek justice.”

McGeehan has introduced H.B. 238 that would suspend any expired statute of limitations for two years in child sex abuse cases, providing a window of opportunity for those victims to file a civil lawsuit. His bill also would seek to make child sexual abuse an exception to the sovereign immunity defense that shields public officials from being sued.

“The effects of child sex abuse are felt everywhere,” McGeehan said. “We are all victims. The scandals which have rocked school districts and dioceses across the country, Penn State, the Boy Scouts — the problem clearly is not going away. Opponents of our measures need to rethink their positions and become part of the solution. Let’s get this done.”

Freshman state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a victim of child sexual abuse by a priest and prime co-sponsor of McGeehan’s legislation, said he is proud to stand as an ally of Bishop and McGeehan in this effort.

“Sexual abuse not only destroys the victim’s life, but its ripple effects can have a dramatic impact on family members and friends as well,” Rozzi said. “Often times the victims suffer in silence, and they see suicide as their only way out. It is now time to break the silence, let their voices be heard and end this vicious cycle of sexual abuse.”

A key supporter of the legislation, former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, said, “Recent revelations about decades of lies and cover-ups of child sexual abuse in the most respected organizations demonstrate the need for the progressive pieces of legislation offered by Representatives Bishop and McGeehan.”

McGeehan praised Abraham for her courageous efforts in convening the exhaustive investigation of the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2002, which actually empaneled three grand juries.

“To quote former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, she is one tough cookie,” McGeehan said.

Professor Marci A. Hamilton of the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, the author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children” and a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, praised the Bishop-McGeehan-Rozzi effort.

“Statue-of-limitations reform is empowering to victims and their families, and terrifying to pedophiles and their supporting institutions,” said Hamilton, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania law school. “This legislation finally levels the playing field so that victims can come forward when they are ready — and those creating the conditions for abuse are put on notice that they do not have a safe haven in an arbitrary legal technicality.”

John Salveson, founder and president of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, said the reopening of a window to file civil suits – as called for by the McGeehan bill – can have a profound effect on public awareness.

“This week, the Los Angeles Times broke a story that Catholic Church officials concealed abuse involving 75 priests and 500 victims,” Salveson said. “Those files were released as part of a civil action by child sex abuse victims covered by a one-year window in California that suspended the statute of limitations for past victims. No window, no trial. No trial, no documents. No documents, no exposure of predators. It’s really that simple.”