Harrisburg, PA -- Today, leaders from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) met to call attention to core issues that need to be addressed to prevent future harm and support the needs of victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Advocates also shared gratitude for the PA legislature’s bi-partisan approach to sexual violence-related issues—matters that all legislative members can agree on and work collectively to address.
Three high-priority issues for PCAR and survivors of sexual abuse were addressed today during our press event. These issues include amending the Pennsylvania Constitution to provide a two-year window to enable previously time-barred child survivors of sexual abuse access to civil justice (House Bill 951); creating penalties for assaulting vulnerable individuals in an institutional/caretaker setting (Senate Bill 704) and passing a collection of bills to amend the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act (SATEC) to improve processes for anonymous reporting and create a statewide tracking system for rape kits (House Bills 2032, 1848 and Senate Bill 860).
PCAR CEO Karen Baker, PCAR’s policy director Donna Greco, Mary Onama as executive director of Victim Services Center of Montgomery and Christine Zaccarelli as CEO of The Crime Victims' Center of Chester County, Inc. led a discussion on these pieces of legislation.
As the executive director for one of Pennsylvania’s 47 sexual assault centers, Mary Onama shared that the legislature has been successful in passing one of PCAR’s legislative priorities already. She thanked Sen. Wayne Langerholc for championing Senate Bill 81 to expand current law for expert witnesses in cases of domestic violence, stalking, and human trafficking to explain victim behavior.
“This was an important priority for us to ensure that experts be allowed to provide courts a clearer picture of the crime and how it impacts victims and affects their behavior,” Onama said. “There is so much that is misunderstood about sexual violence that legislation like this allows for a better understanding of it in a trauma-informed way to support the survivor and help others understand the full scope of the harm done.”
PCAR CEO, Karen Baker, highlighted how the legislature is collaborating in a non-partisan approach to advance a number of bills to support survivors and increase accountability for those that cause harm. “Survivors and those of us that provide help, hope and healing to victims of abuse appreciate that our state policy-makers are consistently able to agree that supporting survivors is a high priority,” Baker said. “We value that we can collaborate on making state policy that makes our communities safer and holds accountable anyone that commits sexual violence. While there is more work to be done, we are confident the passage of these bills will support survivors and improve the safety of our communities.
PCAR’s policy director, Donna Greco expressed gratitude toward the support of the legislature and Governor Tom Wolf to enact a historic number of bills that were identified by PCAR in the past two legislative sessions. In discussing the bills highlighted today, Greco said, “we are glad to continue building on the legislature’s past successes to support survivors. Legislation that protects overall safety of vulnerable individuals such as those in an institutional setting is important and we will work with the legislature to ensure that bills can focus on that goal in a trauma-informed way that recognizes the power dynamics involved in sexual violence.”
A critical bill that PCAR and many survivors have called on the legislature to advance is to remove a time barrier for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to sue their abusers in a civil court. Ms. Greco called on the Senate to advance Bill 951, which would end a decades-long wait by some survivors seeking justice. “PCAR continues to have ongoing conversations with senators and we strongly believe that HB 951 is not only constitutional but it is necessary for survivors to have their day in court,” Greco said. “It’s also important for them to be able to name their abusers in public for community safety as many are living in anonymity in our communities with no one knowing the past harm caused.”
Ms. Zaccarelli noted, “By working together in our communities and the Commonwealth we can prevent sexual violence. Prevention is about ending sexual violence; not just being aware of it and encouraging community members to take individual precautions to avoid harm. Prevention is about holding individuals accountable for their actions and being clear as a community that sexual assault, abuse, and harassment will not be tolerated. These bills will take necessary steps to do that for Pennsylvania.”
We encourage anyone that may need help from experienced and caring professionals in your community for free and confidential help please contact a sexual assault center by calling 1-888-772-7227 or visit www.pcar.org.