An Opportunity to Be Heard
Current Pennsylvania law only gives survivors until age 30 to sue and strictly limits the time that criminal complaint can occur. However, recent developments suggest that the Pennsylvania legislature may extend the rights of childhood sexual abuse survivors to seek justice and compensation for the injuries they’ve suffered.
Under the proposal, the statute of limitations for such claims would be extended until the survivor reaches the age of 50. The proposal would also allow for a two-year window for existing survivors to file lawsuits even if their time had already expired.
The proposed law has not passed yet and this “window of opportunity” legislation has twice stalled in the Pennsylvania Senate. However, advocates for survivors of child sexual abuse are hopeful that similar legislation passed or under consideration in New York, New Jersey and other states, will put pressure on the Pennsylvania legislature to give the brave survivors of child sexual abuse the opportunity to tell their stories and seek justice.
Pennsylvania Epicenter of Child Sexual Abuse Exposure
Pennsylvania was the location of one of the first successful civil trials against a Catholic clergy member over 30 years ago, and with the exposure of Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky story, Pennsylvania has become the focus of the child sexual abuse scandal. Since that time, 21 states including New York and New Jersey have extended the time that child sexual abuse survivors have to seek justice.
Recent events suggest that child sexual abuse survivors in Pennsylvania may get their day in court. In August of 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury reported that they had found that thousands of minors may have been abused in multiple Catholic Church parishes and dioceses in the state and a list of over 300 creditably accused priests and clergy was published.
Child Sexual Abuse in Other Institutions
While the Catholic Church events may be receiving the most news coverage, child sexual abuse occurs in many other places including:
- Churches and other religious institutions
- Private schools
- Sports teams
The Boy Scouts have recently come under fire as experts have suggested that Boy Scouts of America may have covered up thousands of cases of sexual abuse. Many survivors are now considering legal action against the Scouts as they, like the Catholic church, may have kept detailed information about abusers and claims against them.
Pennsylvania Clergy Abuse List
In August 2018, a grand jury convened in Pennsylvania published a list of 301 priests and clergy members in six Pennsylvania dioceses, who had allegedly abused over 1,000 minors. The list may not be complete as additional clergy members won the right to keep their names private and many abusers are still undiscovered in churches, private schools, clubs and other organizations.
Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Unfortunately, many survivors of childhood sexual abuse may face challenges that are lifelong. These include feelings of guilt, shame, depression and anxiety. Survivors who were abused by clergy, teachers, counselors, coaches or other trusted adults may be at risk for alcohol and substance abuse, PTSD, suicide or other mental health disorders.
Childhood sexual abuse survivors may be reluctant to come forward, may have repressed memories or may not be aware of how much trauma they have experienced. Sexual abuse may begin long before the actual “event” as victims are groomed to trust and comply with abusers.
Childhood sexual abuse may include:
- Unwanted touching with or without clothes
- Verbal sexual harassment
- Lewd comments or gestures
- Exposure to pornographic material, images or videos
- Provision of alcohol or drugs to encourage sexual behavior
- Sexual assault
- Statutory rape
Compensation for Survivors of Pennsylvania Child Sexual Abuse
Pennsylvania survivors of child sexual abuse deserve justice and compensation for the injuries they’ve suffered. In 2014, Pennsylvania increased reporting standards for certain organizations where children have been abused but many survivors may have fallen through the cracks. That may be changing with recent events in Pennsylvania and other states.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg has arranged a fund, known as the Survivor Compensation Program, to pay clergy sexual abuse survivors. Similar programs have been established in other dioceses, including Philadelphia but settlements are individual and private. Taking compensation or services from established funds may prevent survivors from being able to participate in future compensation recovery efforts, even when the laws change in favor of victims’ rights. If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, you have a right to seek justice and compensation for medical costs, counseling costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other issues.
Each case is unique and should be evaluated by a lawyer who is experienced in Pennsylvania child sexual and clergy abuse lawsuits.