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Proponents of a Pennsylvania bill designed to bring justice to more victims of child abuse, after years of pushing for its passage, may finally have succeeded.

Last month the Pennsylvania House approved legislation that will allow now-adult child abuse survivors to sue the institutions or people that failed to protect them. Previous attempts to pass the new law have been blocked by Senate majority Republicans, despite being supported by House Republicans. After it was approved anyway in the 2019-2020 session, then Department of State Chief Kathy Boockvar failed to advertise it to the public, preventing it from reaching another session and making it onto the 2021 primary election ballot in May. Governor Tom Wolf’s administration is still under investigation for the error, which came to light in February and would potentially set back the bill’s progress by at least two years. Even if it passes the Senate, it will not take effect until 2023 at the earliest. 

The new bill is not limited to just clergy sex abuse victims but anyone who suffered at the hands of trusted adults. It would allow adult abuse survivors a window of two years to come forward with civil suits and seek compensation for the horrors they experienced as children, regardless of how long ago it was. The 11-3 Judiciary Committee vote, attended by abuse survivors, means it will make it onto the floor as soon as this month. A similar law passed in 2019 in New Jersey raises the age limit to report abuse from 20 to 55.

Support for the bill has been gaining momentum ever since a damning 2018 state grand jury report documenting decades of ongoing child abuse and attempts to keep it under wraps by Catholic dioceses all over the state and in the Vatican. Their investigation found that hundreds of priests molested potentially thousands of children since the 1940s and that Catholic leadership had covered it up. More than 17,000 children nationwide were also abused by their trusted clergymen. For example, one boy was forced to pose nude and be photographed in a crucifixion scene, footage of which was produced and distributed. At the time, the statute of limitations made it impossible for those grown children to file charges. 

Unsurprisingly, the new bill has been passionately opposed by the Catholic Church since its inception. Republican senators who fought against it argue that amending a law that drastically requires amending the constitution, a challenging and often lengthy process. 

But Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman now says he will back the bill as long as fellow lawmakers seem united around it. Even so, supporters are unsure it will be passed in the Senate and become law. Democratic Rep. Greg Vitali suggested that approval could mean unsustainable expenses for the public school system, taking resources from children.

Despite the long and uncertain road ahead, the bill’s supporters, including House members who were themselves abused as children, are still encouraged by the progress they have made in bringing their fight for justice to light. 

The ever-changing landscape of victims’ rights in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere means that an experienced attorney will be vital for anyone coming forward to seek justice. If you or a loved one suffered abuse as a child, the team at D’Arcy Johnson Day, one of New Jersey’s premier litigation firms, is in your corner. Call us toll-free at 866-327-2952, or contact us here for a free consultation.

See Our Full Legal Guide to Sexual Abuse

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