Historic Legislation Helps Child Sexual Abuse Victims

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(WBRE/WYOU) — Victim’s rights advocates are calling it historic legislation that will help protect child sexual abuse victims in the future and expand the rights of past victims.

Reaction is coming in from all sectors of the community, namely those people who investigate and counsel the victims of child sexual abuse. Supporters say this is a good start, but more has to be done.

“Well, this is a great success for victim’s rights especially for child victims of sexual abuse. This is a great success,” Suzanne Beck, Victims Resource Center Chief Program Officer said.

And that is what we heard over and over again after Governor Wolf signed legislation that will make major changes in how child sex abuse cases are handled in the future. The law eliminates the statute of limitations as it relates to child sexual abuse. It also expands the time period that victims have to bring their abusers to justice.

“The elimination of the statute of limitations for future cases is a great step forward,” Beck said.

Beck says the new law gives hope for child abuse victims who remained silent for years, even decades.

“You have to remember that children are not just small adults, they’re children who have been traumatized and essentially scared and threatened into not telling their stories,” Beck said.

The legislation was crafted in part by the August 2018 release of a statewide grand jury report. It presented details of how more than 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania abused children for more than a half-century.

State Representative Tarah Toohil helped draft the legislation which also wipes out any agreement meant to silence victims such as confidentiality agreements that were connected to some sort of financial settlement with the victim and the abuser.

“There are victims out there right now that believe because they signed a piece of paper years ago that they cannot speak to law enforcement and we wanted to put it in black and white that they are able to speak with law enforcement about crimes that have occurred,” Toohil said.

This was a bipartisan effort. There is still an effort underway to open a window for past victims to be able to file lawsuits against their perpetrators decades after the crimes were committed.

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