Multiple bills to extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse have been under consideration in Pennsylvania in recent months. Republican Representative Paul Schemel of Franklin does not want to see a change to the laws governing how long a survivor of sexual abuse has before they must come forward. “We have statutes of limitations for reasons,” he stated when discussing his opposition to one of the bills that has been slowly moving forward through the Pennsylvania legislature since the start of the year. Schemel feels that lengthening the amount of time survivors have to come forward could impact the rights of those accused of the crime.
At the same time, proponents of the new rules like Representative Dan Miller of Allegheny acknowledge that in many cases, it may take extended periods of time for those affected by these heinous acts to find their voices. “We know that kids need a little more time; the kids need help,” he said.
Of course, dioceses in Pennsylvania have lobbied hard against the measure and have emphasized their desire to handle the Church’s sexual abuse settlements internally via victim compensation funds. Such actions, however, fail to hold those who perpetrated the abuse directly accountable. In most cases, utilizing such measures also means the victim has waived their right to any future legal action against the Church, cannot ask questions, and that there are no actual legal findings.
Meanwhile, across the border in New Jersey, courts, advocates, and other legal observers are watching to see the impact of the state’s recent adoption of new rules that raise the maximum age allowed for the filing of claims against an abuser as well as the number of years that may go by before a survivor may realize that they were, in fact, abused. Legislators rejected several ‘sky-is-falling’ type scenarios – such as the Church’s assertion that changing the law in favor of the survivors may “interfere” with its ability to resolve the problem through compensation fund programs – before moving the bill forward.
While at least one lawsuit was filed immediately following the signing of the new legislation into law, the deluge of new cases the opposition predicted; or perhaps feared, appears not to have materialized.