PCAR's Current Legislative Agenda
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape: 2021 State Legislative Agenda
Establish a look-back window for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse to access civil justice for past abuses: Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse deserve justice. Accountability—of those who caused harm—is paramount to healing for many survivors. PCAR supports all efforts to establish a retroactive civil window for victims of childhood sexual abuse. This one-time window would open a two-year timeframe during which survivors—whose legal options have already expired—an opportunity to look back and pursue civil justice. PCAR supports HB 14 (Gregory) and SB 8 (Baker
Expand medical support and identity protections for survivors: The Pennsylvania General Assembly has strengthened the options and resources available to victims of sexual assault by amending the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection (SATEC) Act over multiple legislative sessions. As a result, Pennsylvania can be viewed as a national leader in employing best practices in medical care for victims.
- Legislation that will establish a statewide tracking system for all sexual assault evidence (or rape kits), beginning with the initial collection of evidence within medical facilities.
- Administrative and/or legislative efforts that will expand Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) throughout the state, to ensure that every survivor has access to a SANE, either in person or through tele-health.
- Legislation that further protects the anonymity of victims who wish to remain anonymous when seeking care and having evidence collected and tested, by aligning Title 18, Sec. 5106 with the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act.
Safe housing for victims of sexual assault: Many Pennsylvanians face economic and housing insecurity—an issue COVID-19 has amplified. Too often, sexual abuse is a precursor to—or result of— housing insecurity and homelessness. We seek to strengthen housing protections in private and public housing realms to ensure victims and their families have access to affordable and safe living environments. We support state legislation that strengthens housing protections by further codifying the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provisions within the Commonwealth, enabling victims to break leases without penalty, expunging eviction records related to abuse, and preventing sexual exploitation and harassment within housing realms.
Sexual abuse prevention in K—12 schools: Pennsylvania’s students and teachers are facing an unprecedented challenge in the COVID-19 era—spending less time face-to-face in the classroom and more time online and at home. Many students are spending more time interacting online without adult supervision. This increases risk factors for online predation and sexual exploitation, well-documented by the New York Times series on spiking consumption of online images that depict the sexual abuse of children. Virtual schooling also means many child victims are quarantined with abusive family or household members and cut off from caregivers and mandated reporters. We seek legislation that further supports teachers and school districts in identifying abuse in online environments and delivering child sexual abuse and exploitation prevention programs in collaboration with community-based organizations, such as rape crisis centers.
Sexual abuse prevention in postsecondary schools: In August 2020, significant changes to Title IX took effect, requiring all K—12 and postsecondary institutions to adjust their policies and procedures. Changes to Title IX potentially weaken protections and supports for victims of campus sexual assault. We seek state legislation that strengthens sexual assault prevention and response in institutions of higher education, such as the Every Voice model, which includes Memorandums of Agreements between postsecondary institutions and rape crisis centers, climate surveys, and prevention training for the campus community, and victim-centered Title IX practices that are both compliant with current rules and are trauma-informed.
Expert witness testimony expansion: Pennsylvania law allows for expert witness testimony in cases of sexual assault and abuse. These professionals are able to provide testimony that helps jurors better understand the crime of sexual violence and the complex dynamics associated with victimization. Expert witnesses are able to debunk victim-blaming myths and misperceptions associated with sexual violence and provide professional and clinical testimony that helps jurors understand what can often seem like counterintuitive victim behaviors, reactions, or actions. We support legislation that expands expert witness provisions in cases involving crimes of human trafficking, domestic violence, and stalking: SB 81 (Langerholc) and its companion in the House (Schroeder’s yet to be introduced bill).
Protect older adults from sexual abuse and exploitation: Older adults are at increased risk of sexual abuse and assault. Physical and cognitive aspects of aging can leave this population at greater risk for abuse and exploitation by caregivers, yet our institutional sexual assault laws do not currently cover facilities and services where older adults reside or seek care. We support legislation that closes this gap in the institutional sexual assault statute to include sexual abuse committed against care-dependent older adults by care providers in facilities, community care centers, and private residences.
Protections for immigrant and refugee victims fleeing abuse and assault: Undocumented and refugee children and adults face alarming risks for abuse and exploitation. U-Visa protections are available to victims of certain crimes of abuse and are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. Yet, there are only 10,000 U-visas available to immigrant victims throughout the country each year. A survivor’s eligibility for such protection hinges on law enforcement certifying their status as a victim. Delayed and inconsistent certification procedures throughout Pennsylvania leave many victims at a prolonged risk of ongoing harm and abuse and without legal recourse. We seek partnerships and legislation that will strengthen Pennsylvania’s U-visa process and expand the safety of immigrant and refugee victims.
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.