AG Josh Shapiro calls for re­form on sex abuse laws

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - NEWS - By Mar­ian Den­nis mden­nis@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com @Mar­i­anDen­nis1 on Twit­ter

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.

MAR­IAN DEN­NIS — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

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.

MAR­IAN DEN­NIS — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

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.

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