Pennsylvania Lawmakers Seek Alternative Option For Child Sex Abuse Survivors

Pennsylvania lawmakers are taking a two-pronged approach to pass legislation for sex abuse survivors. If passed, the law would open a 2-year “look back” window.

Sexual Abuse/Assault Legislation Update

Adult child sex abuse survivors in Pennsylvania are one step closer to having more legal options. After a government error derailed an earlier bill that would have helped survivors, lawmakers are committed to finding a solution for these victims.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are currently taking a two-pronged approach to pass legislation for survivors. The end goal of this legislation is to open a two-year “look back” window to benefit adult survivors.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers’ Two-Pronged Approach

Lawmakers are proposing two legislative options to open a retroactive window for abuse survivors to file claims. They have proposed a constitutional amendment and legislation to pass a “look back” window law.

Pennsylvania Congress Approves Constitutional Amendment

At the end of March, the state Congress approved a constitutional amendment to open a “look back” window. The Senate voted 44–3 in favor of the amendment. The amendment passed in the House 188–13. 

However, there are several more steps before this amendment becomes law:

  • Congress must approve the amendment again in the next legislative session.
  • Voters must approve the change at the polls.

The next legislative session begins in January 2023. This means survivors have to wait at least two years to seek justice under an amendment.

Lawmakers had already approved this amendment in two consecutive sessions. But, due to a government error, they had to restart the entire process earlier this year.

State House And Senate Committee Approve Bill

Lawmakers who support a legal window have also proposed regular legislation to open the “look back” window. On April 7, 2021, the Pennsylvania House approved this bill 149–52. It then went onto the Senate.

Supporters are unsure how the bill will fare in the Senate and whether it will receive approval from Republican senators. Some critics believe, if passed, this bill could financially overwhelm state public schools. Many Republicans in Congress have also been unsure about the legality of a bill. Some believe a constitutional amendment is the only legal way to open a “look back” window. 

However, despite some concerns, the bill is gaining traction in the Senate. On April 21, 2021, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved this bill 11–3. Many see this as a promising sign, signaling the bill may have enough support to pass in the Senate.

“Today’s vote brings these brave survivors the closest they have been to having their day in court.”

Attorney General Josh ShapiroThe Associated Press

Survivors Have Waited 16 Years For Justice

Pennsylvania lawmakers have been discussing legislative reform of child sexual abuse laws for more than a decade. In 2005, the first grand jury report in the state found horrific instances of abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The most recent state grand jury report was released in 2018. The report reviewed clergy abuse allegations in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It identified more than 1,000 victims and more than 300 accused clergy members

The 2018 report also identified ways in which the Pennsylvania dioceses concealed the abuse by Catholic priests.

If lawmakers are successful, a legal “look back” window would give thousands of victims a renewed chance at justice. Many survivors are currently time-barred from filing a lawsuit against responsible dioceses under the state’s statute of limitations.

The “look back” window would allow any survivor of childhood sex abuse to file a civil claim.

Several other states have enacted similar retroactive windows. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed under New York’s Child Victims Act. California, New Jersey and North Carolina also have open “look back” windows.

Nationwide, survivors have filed decades-old claims against the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and schools. Now, Pennsylvania survivors may soon have the same renewed opportunity to hold their abusers, and the institutions that worked to hide the crimes, accountable.

“If you believe as strongly as I do that abuse victims have been denied a fair remedy for far too long, then we are obligated to attempt every avenue to deliver a just result.”

Senator Lisa BakerSpotlight PA

If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault or a serious physical assault, you may have legal rights. Our team of attorneys is here to help you seek justice against predators and the organizations that cover up or ignore your abuse. Learn more about your legal options, the claims process and potential compensation.

Request a free, confidential abuse case evaluation by calling or sending a message through our secure contact form.

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