House-passed statute of limitations bills are ‘Trojan horses’ of reform. Here’s why | Opinion

Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, was abused by a priest as a child and has been at the forefront of the PA General Assembly's attempts to adjust laws for victims of childhood sexual abuse. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

By Kathryn Robb

When the Pennsylvania state Senate considers the duo of House Bill 962 and House Bill 963, respectively introduced by Reps. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks,and James Gregory, R-Blair, we should all consider re-reading Homer, as a cruel trick is sure to unfold at the feet of countless survivors of child sexual abuse.

This legislative Trojan horse will roll into the Senate chamber in all its grandiosity only to spill its secret contents into the darkness of the night, blockading the doors to justice for so many victims of child sexual abuse.

One would think that the 887 pages in the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing unspeakable crimes committed against children, by more than 300 priests, would be enough to stop this cruel ruse. Think again.

Let me share the CliffsNotes: Rozzi’s bill, HB962, provides that a victim of child sexual abuse has until their 55th birthday to bring a civil claim, prospectively, meaning it only applies to victims who fall within the present statute of limitations, or who are sexually assaulted after the bill becomes law.

Remember those thousands of kids violated by more than 300 priests? The vast majority will not get justice from this bill.

Here’s why — House Bill 962 does nothing for victims of child sexual abuse who are over age 30. This is especially unfair given that the average age a victim comes forward is age 52.

And here’s the real kicker –- of all children who are sexually assaulted and raped, only 4 percent of those crimes are committed by clergy. The vast majority are committed by family, coaches, teachers, and acquaintances. The atrocities in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, as horrific as they are, account for only 4 percent of all sexual predators.

Here comes the real deception, the true charlatan in this clever scheme.

Gregory’s proposal, HB963, would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow for a two-year civil window, so those once-barred victims have an opportunity for justice.

Sounds great, right?

Not so fast. First, amending the Constitution is no quick or sure-fire remedy. It will take at least two years, and there is no guarantee it will happen at all.

Under Article XI of the Pennsylvania Constitution, you need a majority of both chambers to approve the amendment, then that amendment must be published three months before the next general election, in at least two newspapers in every county.

Then the amendment must be considered again in the next session of the Legislature. If it is approved a second time by a majority of both houses, the amendment goes on a statewide ballot. This is by no means an easy or swift process, and there is certainly no guarantee. And, finally, many would argue that Pennsylvania does not need an amendment to the Constitution. Even the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has stated that such retroactive legislation will be constitutional.

These linked bills are no shiny victory trophy. for most victims, they are an empty gift, with an empty promise — the perfect Trojan horse of justice delayed and, ultimately, denied.

Kathryn Robb is the executive director of Child USAdvocacy, an advocacy group dedicated to protecting the civil liberties of children.

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