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After more fits and starts than most states, Pennsylvania is once again considering removing the legal obstacle preventing adults from seeking justice for abuse they suffered as children.

Last week, Pennsylvania legislators stepped closer to paving the way for adults who were sexually abused as children to seek recourse in court against their predators.

By a vote of 187-15, the state House of Representatives passed a measure that could lead to a temporary lifting of expired statute of limitations for some abuse victims, allowing them to file civil suits.

House Bill 14, authored by Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, calls for a voter referendum on a two-year retroactive window that would lift expired statute of limitations to allow such legal civil action.

If the referendum is successful, Pennsylvania would join California, New York, and New Jersey in recognizing that the antiquated statute of limitations relating to child sex abuse cases is unjust and serves the interests of the perpetrators and the institutions that protected them.

The bill calls for amending the state constitution to create the window for victims to pursue claims and it requires voter approval. It is a companion piece to an effort launched in 2018 by Rozzi to reform the state’s child sex crime laws in the wake of a set of stunning investigations into clergy sex abuse in Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.

If approved by the Senate, the measure would have fulfilled all the legal requirements in order to go to voters. Measures to amend the state constitution must pass the House and Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions. Lawmakers approved the measures in the last session. If the Senate acts swiftly, the ballot question could go to voters as early as this spring.

In spite of the compensation programs in which each of Pennsylvania’s dioceses participated, many victims remain searching for justice and closure.  The ability to file an abuse lawsuit in a court of law allows the survivors to determine “the who, what, and when” concerning their abuse.  It also allows them the ability to hold those accountable for their actions.

Nationwide, since 2002, some 24 so-called revival bills have been enacted. Some jurisdictions have had multiple windows, including California with two, and Hawaii with three. Overall there have been 19 retroactive windows opened by states and five revivals.

Vermont has completely eliminated statutes on child sex crimes and has enacted a permanent retroactive window.

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis

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