You are here

We all must act to ensure victims can seek justice

Originally published in LNP | Lancaster Online on August 19, 2018.

A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while visiting her in the hospital after she got her tonsils out.

Another priest made a 9-year-old boy give him oral sex, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water to purify him.

Gold crosses were provided by priests to “mark” children who were targets for abuse, letting others know who might be vulnerable.

Strategically coordinated sexual abuse. Organized institutional cover-up.

And virtually no legal action can be taken for the cases outlined in the latest grand jury report on child sexual abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, despite the presence of evidence to substantiate the claims. Why? Because the statutes of limitations expired in Pennsylvania before information reached law enforcement officials.

There are 1,356 pages of details in the grand jury report as stomach-churning as the excerpts above. More than 1,000 victims identified, and perhaps thousands more who have not come forward.

Thousands of children — our loved ones — abused. Then cast aside, their pain and experiences ignored and systematically denied and hidden.

It is documented that church leaders covered up the abuse and over the past several years have reportedly hired countless lobbyists to ensure that legislative reform needed to change the statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse never made it to the governor’s desk.

While this report highlights issues inside the Catholic Church, similar patterns of silencing victims, hiding abuse and moving perpetrators to new and unsuspecting communities have occurred in schools, organizations serving youth, other faith institutions and within corporate and other secular institutions throughout this state and elsewhere.

We have failed as a society to take child sexual abuse seriously enough to mandate change. We have failed as a society to believe victims when they recount what was done to them, and have repeatedly denied them justice in the criminal and civil courts. We have failed to demand that our institutions enact and abide by policies and procedures that protect children.

We haven’t insisted loudly enough to our lawmakers that we want legislation that holds offenders and the institutions that knowingly shelter them accountable whenever we learn about their actions.

We know that sexual abuse is a serious and widespread problem. This is not a Catholic problem or a Penn State problem or a private school problem. It is a societal problem. The allegations in the grand jury report highlight the epidemic of child sexual abuse and the all-too-common systematic cover-up that follows at institutions across the commonwealth and beyond.

Now, we must act.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape is asking for your help.

The coalition supports the full elimination of the criminal and civil statutes of limitations in child sexual abuse cases because it is simply in the best interest of public safety.

But simply doing that will give options only to future victims. It will do nothing to help the woman who was raped at age 7 after having her tonsils removed. It will do nothing to help the man who was given holy water to wash out his mouth after being orally raped when he was 9. Or any of the other victims whose stories are in the report.

To help them, we must insist that Pennsylvania lawmakers pass a window of opportunity for those who have timed out of the criminal and civil limits to seek justice.

While state Senate leaders have taken the position that retroactive access is unconstitutional, other states have found it to be constitutional in the civil courts.

The coalition believes that the courts should be allowed to decide in Pennsylvania.

So we urge you to join us in support of protections for all those affected by child sexual abuse.

We know that delayed reporting of sexual violence is normal, common and should be expected. Many people who have been sexually abused wait months, years or decades before discussing what was done to them with anyone, let alone making a formal report to authorities.

We must give survivors of child sexual abuse the time they need to report on their own terms — not according to some arbitrary and outdated time limit.

We also know that adults who commit sexual violence tend to commit multiple acts against multiple people. And it is time for Pennsylvania law to reflect this reality and provide law enforcement the ability to investigate whenever a victim is ready to make a report in hopes of stopping the perpetrator from harming others.

Now we must call our lawmakers persistently. Meet with them — multiple times, if necessary. We must ensure that they hear us loud and clear. We must not go away.

We must not forget about the magnitude of the news we heard last week — news we frankly have heard through gossip and whispers for decades but have chosen not to act on.

There is no more time for inaction.

There is no more time to listen to lobbyists argue why the law can’t be changed.

The law can be changed. And it must be.

When the fall legislative session resumes in mid-September, take action. Urge our lawmakers to rip up the playbook of institutions that aim to run out the clock on survivors by concealing the truth.

Pass statute of limitations reform in child sexual abuse cases to help all survivors — including those who can no longer seek justice through the criminal process.