Rape awareness group and 80 Christian leaders urge Senate to approve child sex crime reform bill

“The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and scores of religious leaders have signed a letter urging Senate members to approve House Bill 1947, which would reform the statute of limitations.”

6/7/16 | Ivey DeJesus | PennLive.com

One of Pennsylvania’s most prominent rape awareness organizations and nearly 80 faith leaders from across the state have called on members of the Senate to support the child sex crime reform bill that is about to go before the chamber next week.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and scores of religious leaders have signed a letter urging Senate members to approve House Bill 1947, which would reform the statute of limitations.

“Reform is in the best interest of public safety,” said Kristen Houser.

PCAR, chief public affairs officer. “It’s an opportunity to identify offenders who may be perpetrating crimes against children, shift the cost of abuse back to the offender and the institutions that protected them. We know that child sexual abuse does come with a high price for victims. They have ongoing health problems, ongoing health costs…addiction, loss of education attainment. We feel that when an adult is finally in place to come forth they deserve to recoup the losses they’ve incurred. This is a way of shifting the cost to the person who harmed them rather than shouldering it themselves.

House Bill 1947 would amend the civil components of the law, including extending time frames and adding limited retroactivity; as well, the bill would eliminate all criminal statutes on future crimes. The bill passed in the House in April with overwhelming support. The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to hold a hearing on the bill on Monday.

Opponents of the bill – most notably the Catholic Church – argue that the bill unfairly targets the church. Church leaders argue that the bill would generate catastrophic lawsuits on the church, putting at risk all sorts of faith-based and ministerial programs.

A cadre of business organizations have also spoken out in opposition to the bill, saying its retroactive provisions would be detrimental to business in Pennsylvania.

“It is imperative that we support these individuals! Stop the abuse!” – Rev. Fredrica Meitzen
In a joint press release PCAR and the 80 religious leaders explained that they wanted to counter “the narrative that churches and people of faith oppose the legislation.”

“As a pastor who has counseled older congregational members who did not report their sexual abuse as children until after they were over 50 years of age, I strongly encourage you to support HB 1947,” said Rev. Fredrica Meitzen, of Gettysburg. “It is imperative that we support these individuals! Stop the abuse!”

Houser added that the organization’s support of the bill was not directed at the Catholic Church, which this week has called on its members across parishes and schools to help defeat the bill. Church leaders across the state have sent letters out to its members – including parents of Catholic schools children – asking them to advocate to legislators on behalf of defeating the bill.

“We hear of people from all walks of life, people who have been harmed in other institutions, schools and youth groups,” Houser said. “There’s a lot of folks who have adults who did not respond appropriately to reports of abuse. This is not a denominational issue. We know many members of faith also support this….this is a demonstration that it isn’t about faith or one particular faith. It’s a human rights, it’s an issue of public safety, a health issue. We want people to get accountability and get resources they need and recoup loses. You are never going to get your innocence back.”

The letter notes that the “safety of children, healing and justice for survivors, and compassionate accountability for those who offend,” were priorities for them.

“PCAR commends the religious leaders who have stepped up to voice their support for statute of limitations reform and children throughout the Commonwealth,” PCAR CEO Delilah Rumburg said. “It is courageous leaders like those who have signed this letter — and those in both the House of Representatives and the Senate—that hold the keys to help, hope and healing for survivors of sexual abuse.”

House Bill 1947 would extend and, in some cases, eliminate, the time limits in which victims of child sex abuse could bring predators to justice.

The proposed legislation’s main provisions include:

  • The elimination of criminal statutes on future sex crimes against children
  • A 20-year extension to the current civil time limit (to age 50 for victims under 50)
  • The waiving of sovereign immunity for state and local public institutions in cases of gross negligence
  • A retroactive component that would allows past victims of child sex abuse to file civil claims up to the age of 50. (Under current law, victims of child sexual abuse are barred from seeking civil action after they reach the age of 30.)

Victims can bring criminal charges against offenders until they reach 50 years of age — but only if the victim turned 18 years old after Aug. 27, 2002. The law allows victims older than that to report until their 30th birthday.

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