PCAR's Current Legislative Agenda
Expand telecounseling and therapy services for victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnifed both strengths and challenges in providing victims with the help they need and deserve throughout the state. As Pennsylvania practices social distancing and considers stricter policies to address this public health crisis, victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault continue to need help. In fact, isolation and stress, and economic insecurity have consistently been found to increase the risk of sexual violence. Telecounseling, or counseling and support provided online through video or by phone, has emerged over the last decade as an innovative way to provide support to survivors.
In 2017, PCAR piloted a telecounseling project with rape crisis centers in order to improve access and continuity of care for survivors with transportation issues or other barriers that would prevent them from receiving in-person counseling. The vast majority of survivors (over 70%) were satisfied with the services. Similarly, 70% of participants said they were definitely likely to use telecounseling again. Telecounseling services are expanding in Pennsylvania—out of both innovation and necessity. However, gaps in technology and high speed internet connections—especially in rural areas—persist. One center director said, “Some of our staff are younger than our equipment.” Additional resources would enable centers to update their equipment to ensure all victims have access to quality care.
On-site and tele-therapy are vital services to victims who are isolated or experiencing longer-term, complex needs following sexual abuse and assault. While every center provides counseling and advocacy, only 50% are currently equipped to provide longer-term therapy to victims. Increased resources are needed to provide in-person and tele-therapy to victims and families in every country throughout the Commonwealth.
Protections for survivors who become parents through rape —HB 1984 (Sponsor: Kerry Benninghoff) and SB 1204 (Sponsor Sen. Larry Farnese):
In Pennsylvania, a person who has committed rape can still assert parental rights over the victim’s child. This harms victims and their children and keeps them legally tethered to the violent crime of rape and its actor.
While there are grounds to terminate parental rights based on rape and incest, when a victim asserts this right, courts require them to go through the adoption process. Victims must have a person present who is willing to stand in as a stepparent to their child.
Requiring a victim to enter into a relationship with a person who will obtain legal rights of their child does nothing to protect victims and their children.
It is time to pass House Bill 1984 and close this archaic loophole that harms victims and their children throughout the Commonwealth. This bill will amend the Adoptions Act, allowing victims to stand on their own two feet—as courageous victims and loving parents—when petitioning for the termination of the offender’s rights to the child. They will no longer be required to have a person ready to adopt their child with them, in order for these petitions to be considered
End child marriage in Pennsylvania—HB 360 (Topper) and SB 81 (Sabatina): Nationally, over 250,000 children were married between 2000 and 2010, some as young as 11 years old. Child sexual abuse, statutory rape, and trafficking can be both precursors to and outcomes of child marriage. Forced child marriages most commonly involve girls who are married to older, adult men. Marriage is a legal contract, yet minors do not have full legal rights, establishing a stark and problematic power imbalance. Child marriages negatively impact victims, their families, and our larger Commonwealth. They create risks for poverty, domestic and sexual violence, poor health and mental health outcomes, drug and alcohol dependency, interrupted education, and unplanned pregnancies. It is time to establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage in Pennsylvania and support SB 81 (Sabatina) and HB 360 (Topper).
Bills of Interest
5 Ways to Get Involved with Public Policy
- Contact your local Senators and Representatives to advocate for an issue. It can be as easy as sending an email, posting a letter, calling their offices to leave a message, or scheduling an appointment in an elected official’s office to speak about an issue. Elected officials rely upon their constituents to tell them what the problems are and what is important to their districts.
- Register to vote for the upcoming elections. Check out our resources about voter engagement to prepare for election day.
- Attend local rallies, press conferences, other advocacy days at the Pennsylvania Capitol to advocate for issues that inspire you.
- Stay informed! Keep updated on current issues by reading newspapers, watching the news, and following PCAR’s social media pages for updates on local and federal policy.
- Utilize PCAR’s talking points and “What to Know” documents for information in your everyday conversations. Create discussions with family, friends, and co-workers about policy issues to enhance their knowledge.
Our 2019 Policy Successes
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is thankful to the state legislature for their work to pass more than a dozen sexual assault-related bills in 2019. Below is a list of some of the bills PCAR advocated for on behalf of survivors and their loved ones.
HB 962: Reform Statutes of Limitations
Sponsor: Rep. Rozzi
Eliminates in certain cases, and extends the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for sexual offenses. Expands the rights of victims between ages 18 and 23 to seek justice in both criminal and civil courts. The bill also expands the Victims Compensation Assistance Program to provide funds for counseling and therapy.
HB 1051: Hold mandated reporters accountable
Sponsor: Rep. Stephens
Increases penalties for mandated reporters who willfully fail to report child sexual abuse.
HB 1171: Protect one's ability to report abuse
Sponsor: Rep. Toohill
Stops non-disclosure agreements that bar victims from reporting to law enforcement.
Sponsors: Reps. Nesbit and McClinton
Establishes sexual extortion as a crime with appropriate penalties. This bill is a model for the nation because it includes harm
toward victims and their loved ones as well as monetary extortion that often accompanies coercion of a sexual nature.
Sponsor: Sen. Langerholc
Amends the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act to establish greater consistencies for victims, expands victim rights and the notification of such rights, extends the preservation of evidence to the duration of the Statute of Limitations, and ensures victims have access to a sexual assault counselor from a local rape crisis center.
HB 502: Provide access to victims to watch court proceedings
Sponsor: Rep. Hershey
Amends the Crime Victims Act to allow victims to watch court proceedings via telecommunications.
HB 504: Prohibit a victim's past sexual victimization of past allegations from being admitted as evidence
Sponsor: Rep. Mihalek
Past sexual victimization or past allegations are prohibited from use as evidence.
SB 469: Help victims or witnesses with intellectual disabilities or autism testify in court
Sponsor: Sen. Laughlin
This bill creates another avenue for victims and witnesses with intellectual disabilities or autism testify in court proceedings.
SB 479: Allow statements by child victims or witnesses to be admissible in court
Sponsor: Sen. Baker
This bill allows for statements by child victims or witnesses for crimes such as sexual offenses, assault, or kidnapping.
SB 276: Constitutionally protect the rights of victims through Marsy's Law
Sponsor: Rep. Delozier
Marsy’s Law amended the constitution to specify protected rights for victims and protection from harassment or retaliation from the accused.
Act 16 of 2019 (HB 1615)
Sponsor: Re. Turzai (originally sponsored by Sen. Baker)
Require postsecondary institutions to establish online, anonymous reporting options for victims and bystanders to report sexual misconduct.
Act 16 of 2019 (HB 1615)
Sponsor: Rep. Turzai (originally sponsored by Sen. Schwank)
Require postsecondary institutions to provide drug and alcohol amnesty when individuals report sexual misconduct in good faith.