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State-wide Poll Illustrates Support for a Retroactive Window to Justice for Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) today released the results of a state-wide poll in partnership with Susquehanna Polling & Research, Inc. which illustrated overwhelming support for a retroactive window to justice for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse who have timed out of the legal system. 

Note: You can watch the full press event here

Advocates are working with the legislature and the governor’s office to restart the legislative process to allow adult survivors of child sexual abuse the long-delayed path to justice in civil suits after an error by the Pennsylvania Department of State derailed a referendum to voters in the May primary.  The amendment was agreed to as a legislative strategy among adult survivors, advocates, and policy makers to give the legislature the full legal authority to change the constitution to allow survivors a one-time window of two years to sue their abusers in a civil court.  As the department did not follow the legal requirements to facilitate that process, all legislative efforts must now begin anew.

PCAR engaged with Susquehanna Polling & Research, Inc. in late February to better understand a random sampling of Pennsylvania voter’s awareness of the current limitation for adult survivors to sue their abusers and to gauge public support for allowing a two-year window to do so.

Susquehanna Polling & Research Inc., which surveyed 700 likely  voters, found that a majority of Pennsylvania voters (71 percent) are aware that adult survivors cannot pursue civil justice under current state law. However, nearly a third of potential voters were not aware of this limitation.  This finding leads PCAR to believe that more public education is needed to fully provide all voters with the knowledge of adult survivors’ stories and the decades of advocacy that they have endured to tell their story as part of their plea to be able to hold abusers accountable for the harm done during their childhood.

Most importantly, the statewide poll found an overwhelming amount of support among Pennsylvania voters (82 percent) that adult survivors of child sexual abuse should have a two-year window to sue their abusers in a civil court. 

“It is clear that there is extremely strong support among Pennsylvania voters to allow adult survivors the opportunity to sue their abusers in a civil court,” PCAR’s Chief Public Affairs Officer, Jim Willshier said.  “This support crosses all political, geographic, and demographic boundaries in letting individuals that have long suffered from the significant harm they experienced as a child.  Voters are more than willing to create the legal ability for survivors to hold their abuser accountable.  It is our hope that as a community we can all come together to make that a reality as soon as possible and are encouraged to see this level of support to do it.” 

PCAR is working with the General Assembly and other advocates to advance new legislation to give survivors this legal right.  Currently, PCAR’s position is to pursue all options via legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution--either by an emergency constitutional amendment to expedite the process of having a referendum on the ballot; amending the constitution in two consecutive legislative sessions which delays a referendum vote to 2023—or establishing a two-year look-back window statutorily for survivors to seek civil justice. 

“We are encouraged to have heard this strong public support for adult survivors,” PCAR’s Policy Director, Donna Greco, said.  “PCAR continues to hear the urgency surrounding these reforms from survivors and from rape crisis centers throughout the Commonwealth. We continue to work with partners in the legislature to advance legislation that will establish this critical window and finally give survivors the legal right to hold their abusers accountable in court without any further delay.”

Greco added, “Legislation to establish this two-year window for adult survivors is PCAR’s top legislative priority this year.  As we approach Sexual Assault Awareness Month is in April and we take time to reflect on the role we all play in keeping our communities safe from sexual violence, advancing a bill to support adult survivors shows another way we can all come together for hope, healing, and health.”