Sex abuse destroys lives and negatively impacts society long after the abuse occurs. According to various studies, the economic costs associated with each child victim of sex abuse reach into the hundreds of thousands for some and into the millions for others.
In Pennsylvania, hospitals have been experiencing a significant uptick in child abuse cases since the arrival of COVID-19, many of which are cases of sexual abuse. Tragically, most of the abuse and sexual abuse comes from family members or from other adults in positions of trust, such as teachers, priests and recreational leaders.
Definition of Child Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Child sexual abuse is no longer specifically defined in Pennsylvania, which allows for the broadest protection possible for children. Instead of giving a specific definition, the legislature lists numerous prohibited sexual acts that qualify as child sexual abuse when committed with, in front of or against a child. Some of them include:
Sexual abuse also encompasses bosses, supervisors and institutions that not only help create situations of abuse but also enable the offenders by failing to take appropriate action when a case of abuse comes to light.
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Institutional Child Sexual Abusers in Pennsylvania
The very institutions charged with acting in place of parents are the ones that harbor predators who have committed the most heinous acts of sexual abuse against children.
These organizations of trust have acted to protect not only the perpetrators but the organizations themselves by hiding the truth and denying victims the justice they deserve.
The Roman Catholic Church
Though it has not been as widely publicized as the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania dioceses produced at least 1,000 victims who suffered at the hands of hundreds of priests.
A two-year grand jury investigation exposed the sexual abuse as well as the culture of cover-up that hid the crimes from the public and the authorities. More than 300 priests were named in the report.
For victims in Pennsylvania, the report was vindication for the sexual crimes committed against them. Previously, many victims who leveled accusations against priests and the church were stigmatized and vilified. After the report, more Catholic Pennsylvanians began to rally around victims to support them instead of chiding them.
Additionally, the grand jury report inspired other states to convene new grand juries into the sexual abuse of minors in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Boy Scouts of America
In 2012, hundreds of ex-Boy Scout leaders from Pennsylvania found themselves listed in the “Perversion Files,” a database created by the Los Angeles Times that catalogs thousands of former adults who were dismissed from the organization because of one or more allegations of sexual abuse.
The nationwide sexual abuse was so rampant that Boy Scouts of America had to file for bankruptcy and sell off properties to help it cover and resolve the thousands of claims it is facing. Sadly, the abuse continues in Pennsylvania and around the country. New cases of Boy Scout abuse are reported regularly.
Children spend almost as much time at school as they do at home. Parents trust educators, administrators and coaches with their most precious assets.
Fortunately, most school authority figures are good to children. But there are those in state schools who sexually exploit the young, and sometimes schools engage in extensive cover-ups to protect their staff and reputation.
Perhaps the most notorious of all child sexual abuse predators is Jerry Sandusky. This former assistant coach for the Penn State Nittany Lions football team was convicted of sexually abusing children for more than a decade.
Officials at Penn State also faced charges of abuse as well as other related charges. Civil lawsuits against Sandusky and Penn State followed.
Justice for Child Sex Abuse Victims in Pennsylvania
Many states across the country have increased access to justice for child sex assault victims by extending their statutes of limitations for criminal and civil actions.
Some have gone as far as completely abolishing any time limit for certain sexual crimes. Pennsylvania, unfortunately, is not one of those states. Currently, victims have up to 12 years after they become an adult to bring an action against a sexual offender.
Potential Changes in the Law
For years now, legislatures across the country, including Congress, have been extending and eliminating sex abuse statutes of limitations or proposing to do so. The most progressive approach has been to completely eliminate any time limits placed on minor sexual abuse victims’ claims.
Currently, Pennsylvania legislators are working on legislation to do just that. Senate Bill 540 proposes completely eliminating any civil or criminal statutes of limitations for sex crimes against both children and adults. It also establishes a window of eligibility for previously time-barred claims.
There are also two bills in the House of Representatives proposing changes. One of them, House Bill 962, gives child victims until the age of 55 to file a civil suit, abolishes sovereign immunity for government agencies and does away with the criminal statute of limitations.
The other proposes a constitutional amendment allowing for a window of eligibility similar to the one proposed by Senate Bill 540.
Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit
Survivors of sexual abuse can seek compensation within the current statute of limitations provided for civil matters. The losses that these individuals must face typically affect all aspects of their lives. Financial, physical, emotional and mental devastation invariably follow cases of child sexual abuse and often have lifelong effects.
Damages frequently suffered by survivors of child abuse include:
No amount of money can change what has happened in the past. However, victims deserve compensation for the losses they’ve suffered—losses caused by others who exploited the trust they were given.
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