AG Josh Shapiro calls for reform on sex abuse laws
LOWER PROVIDENCE » Attorney General Josh Shapiro made it clear Tuesday morning that the fight for victims of sexual abuse is not yet over.
On Tuesday during a press conference and round table discussion, Shapiro highlighted the need for the legislature to approve four reforms that have been recommended by a statewide Grand Jury that investigated sexual abuse by Catholic church clergy and the institutional cover up. Shapiro was joined by State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151), Sen. John Rafferty (R-44), Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm and two victims.
“Five weeks ago my office released the 40th state-wide investigative Grand Jury report detailing child sexual abuse and institutional cover up by the Catholic Church. With its release, Pennsylvanians and the nation, and the world were able to understand for the first time the scope and the scale of decades of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests across our Commonwealth,” said Shapiro.
The Grand Jury’s 884-page report last month detailed years of sexual abuse by over 300 Catholic priests that were covered up. Shapiro noted that only two of those 301 priests were charged, citing what he called “weak laws here in the Commonwealth.”
Following the report, the Grand Jury made four recommendations to help prevent these crimes going forward. In their suggestions they included the following:
• The elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children.
• Creating a civil window so older victims may sue for damages.
• Clarifying penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse
• Specifying that civil confidentiality agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement.
As the law stands now, victims can only come forward until the age of 50, which would be eliminated completely under recommended reforms. Additionally, current law only gives victims of child sex abuse 12 years to sue after they turn 18. Reforms would allow for a two-year window so that victims can sue for damages. The Grand Jury also found that the Church had used confidentiality agreements to silence victims and, with the new statute, victims could not be prohibited from speaking to authorities.
During the conference, Rep. Todd Stephens announced his plans to sponsor legislation that would strengthen state laws that require reporting child sex abuse.
“We’re here today to say, ‘No more.’ I join with Senator Rafferty in his efforts in the Pennsylvania Senate and I’m here to tell you that in the Pennsylvania House we are going to be as persistent and diligent in pursuing these reforms, as the survivors are that testified for that Grand Jury and we are not going to stop,” said Stephens. “As the Grand Jury pointed out, mandated reporters who failed to report repeated acts of abuse must be held accountable for the additional victims they place in harm’s way by remaining silent. My bill, House Bill 2641 will ensure that.”
Two victims also joined Tuesday’s press conference to discuss what this new legislation means to them and why it is of pivotal importance for victims going forward.
“It feels like the first time in the past few years that we as survivors have been heard. I first came out in 2004 and only came out because I thought I was the only victim with my abuser. It was my senior year of high school and it happened and then I left and went off to college. I thought I could make it go away until 2004 when I saw my abuser’s name in a local paper with a girl that went to my high school. I wanted to come up and out because I didn’t want her to be alone,” said victim Mary McHale.
“If we are a civilized society, we cannot let this continue,” said Art Baselice, who was at the conference representing his late son, a victim of sexual abuse. “They’ve already beat the criminal statute so we need to cut off their escape and make it very clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated. You have no right to touch anybody’s child. I don’t like the fact that I had to bury my child.”
Shapiro made it clear Tuesday that they are anticipating some push back but have no intention of backing down when it comes to passing the legislation.
“We’ve been fighting large institutions just to get this Grand Jury report out. I think we have demonstrated we are not going to back down from anybody no matter how powerful they are when it comes to standing up for survivors like Mary,” said Shapiro.
“I fully expect that they will bring all their powerful lobbyists and all their tricks of the trade out next week to try to convince Todd, John and their colleagues to do the wrong thing and to stand against survivors, to stand with powerful institutions. I have confidence that the Pennsylvania House will do the right thing and that the Senate will follow suit and will adopt all four of these Grand Jury recommendations,” said Shapiro.
To report child sex abuse, call 1-888-538-8541.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro (center) stands with State Rep. Todd Stephens (left) and Sen. John Rafferty (right) during a press conference Tuesday. Shapiro highlighted the need for legislation reform aimed at protecting victims of child sex abuse.
Senator John Rafferty takes part in a round table discussion with Attorney General Josh Shapiro and others Tuesday to discuss legislation reform related to child sex abuse victims.