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Sex Crimes May See an Increase in the Number of Victims

A lawsuit filed Wednesday against the Philadelphia Archdiocese brings new abuse and cover-up claims. Pennsylvania law gives childhood abuse survivors until the age of 50 to bring criminal charges, and until age 30 to file civil suits. That's as long as the statute of limitations had not expired when the age limits were extended almost a decade ago.

Two Philadelphia lawmakers want to open the window of opportunity even wider.

In fact, state Rep. Louise Williams Bishop's bill would abolish the statute of limitations on both criminal and civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse going forward.

"A lot of people come to me, I don't know why they do, perhaps it's because I'm a minister. Perhaps they think being a minister would make me sensitive and being a legislator would make me act," she said. "But a few men have come to me and told me that they had been abused in their childhood."

A bill introduced by state Rep. Mike McGeehan, would open a two-year window for adult victims of childhood abuse to sue in civil court. He said if it can be shown that people are directly responsible for hurting children or putting them in harm's way, those people should be prosecuted as in any other case. McGeehan said that's the only way to keep organizations accountable for the actions of their personnel.

Lawyer Marci Hamilton supports both bills.

"I think elimination (of the statute of limitations) going forward is extremely important because it sends a message to every child that's being sexually abused right now--whether in the family, or at school, or wherever it is, that when they're ready, they can go and they can get the help." She said. "And I think that will make it easier for victims to come forward."

Hamilton represents a number of victims who have filed lawsuits against the church.

Reviewed by Attorney Elisabeth Pasqualini, Criminal Division Leader

The statute of limitations for sex crimes in PA provides that "[a]ny sexual offense committed against a minor who is less than 18 years of age any time up to the later of the period of limitation provided by law after the minor has reached 18 years of age or the date the minor reaches 50 years of age."  The potential increase on the statute of limitations has the potential to make the opportunity to make the timing of an allegation limitless.  A statute of limitations is to insure that parties move expeditiously to make claims and to allow parties assurances that they can move forward with their lives after a certain point.  The public policy of this proposed legislation is to promote victims' rights.

If you've been falsely accused  of a sex crime or have questions, contact the knowledgeable staff at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free at (717) 268-4287 .