Thursday, March 3, 2011

New law
Lawmakers act to broaden prosecution of child sex abusers
March 02, 2011|By Monica Yant Kinney, Inquirer Columnist

HARRISBURG - In 2005, State Rep. Mike McGeehan couldn't finish reading the grand-jury report on child sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"I was sick to my stomach" over the graphic tales of torture and terror, the Catholic legislator explained, "moved, but not motivated enough to introduce legislation."

On Tuesday, emboldened by a second grand jury report last month excoriating the archdiocese for protecting rapists over minors, the Northeast Philadelphia Democrat redeemed himself. Standing in the Capitol Rotunda with the world as his witness, McGeehan introduced a bill giving sex-abuse victims from any era a two-year window to file civil lawsuits against those who stole their innocence.

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"I don't come to this advocacy naturally," McGeehan admitted, saying he'd been inspired by a 65-year-old constituent only now processing the pain. "It took him 50 long years to find the courage to speak up," but once he did, the man had no recourse.

"These false timelines we've established need to be stripped out," McGeehan told me. "People come to terms with abuse in their own time, for their own reasons. We need to give them an opportunity to heal. And there needs to be consequences for these perpetrators."

A race against time
Under Pennsylvania law, children abused today have until their 50th birthday to press criminal charges and their 30th to file a civil lawsuit. But adults are subject to the law at the time of their attack.
So a 15-year-old raped in 1993 had only until 2001 to bring a civil lawsuit, five years after he turned 18. And because the criminal statute of limitations was not extended to age 30 until 2002, that boy's perpetrator cannot be prosecuted.

"Most 48-year-old victims can't bring criminal cases. And many 30-year-olds can't," explained Assistant District Attorney Mariana Sorensen. "That's what's confusing. People think we fixed the law, but most people from the past have not benefited from the changes."

To end the confusion, Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Louise Williams Bishop introduced a companion bill to eliminate statutes of limitation - civil and criminal - in future child sex-abuse cases.

Both grand juries, it should be noted, called for the same legislative measures. Even regular citizens know that as written, the laws remain stacked in favor of evildoers and enablers.

Reality check
Catholics remain incensed and betrayed by the latest revelations, but pique alone won't get the child sex-abuse bills passed.

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