Pa. lawmaker, child advocate urge ending statutory limits on sex abuse cases

    In light of the alleged child abuses by Penn State University’s former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, Pennsylvania lawmakers are calling for action on abuse-related bills that have so far stalled.

    Rep. Louise Bishop, a Democrat of Philadelphia, said her voice never shakes so much as when she tells the story of being sexually abused as a child.

    She says many share her experience and aren’t able to have their day in court, because of the statute of limitations for pressing civil claims or criminal charges against their abuser.

    Bishop said she wants to erase such a limit, because it would help the many adult victims who couldn’t bring themselves to report abuses right away.

    “Men 35 and 40 years old. That’s why this bill that lifts the statutory limit is so critical. They too, cannot talk about it until they reach a certain age, until they are secure enough to know that you’re not going to hold it against them and blame them for it,” Bishop said Tuesday.

    One proposal would create a fixed two-year window for victims to sue their abusers–even if the statute of limitations has run out, said John Salveson, the head of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse and a victim of sex abuse as a child.  Salveson is a member of WHYY’s Board of Directors.

    “Outrage is easy. Outrage is comfortable. Outrage makes us feel good about ourselves and our moral superiority,” Salveson said Tuesday. “But unless it’s transformed into action, outrage is useless.”

    In Pennsylvania, victims of child sexual abuse have until their 50th birthday to file criminal charges. For civil claims, they have until up to 12 years after they become an adult.

    The House Republican spokesman says any extension of those statutes will have to come amid considerations of how to balance the goals of punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.