A Second Chance at Justice for Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Victims?

The fight is on in Pennsylvania to remove the statute of limitations for sex abuse victims. Following yet another sex abuse scandal surrounding the Catholic Church, Harrisburg lawmakers are fighting to extend the rights of older sex abuse victims to file a complaint against their abusers and the institutions which enabled them.

At the forefront of the fight is State Representative Mark Rozzi, who was himself abused by a Catholic Priest as a child. Rozzi has battled for the previous four years to put legislation through the Pennsylvania assembly which would create a two-year window for adult victims of childhood sex abuse to sue their abusers and the organizations which sheltered them.

Child sex abuse statutes of limitations (SOLs) vary widely from state to state. In many states, victims of sex abuse have only 2-5 years to file a complaint against pedophiles—either from the time the victim turns 18, or from the time the abuse took place. In the latter case, it is often difficult to determine legally when the two- to five-year countdown begins. Often, sex abuse victims are unaware that they have only a short time in which to make a complaint, and may wait to file a lawsuit until it’s far too late.

Pennsylvania has some of the most liberal childhood sex abuse statutes of limitations in the United States: sex abuse victims have until age 30 to file a civil lawsuit and may press criminal charges until age 50. Compare that to Minnesota, in which victims have 6 years from the time they turn 18 (until they reach the age of 24) to file a complaint against a pedophile. But Minnesota also recently changed its laws to give sex abuse victims older than 24 a two-year window to file suit against their attackers, no matter how old they were at the time they were abused. Seven other states have done likewise. Representative Rozzi wants Pennsylvania to do the same, so that sex abuse victims older than 30 and 50 years of age have a chance to seek justice from their attackers.