Stalled child sex abuse bills important for justice

I realize many of you newspaper readers don't see myblog at themorningcall.com, so I'll just tell you here that in addition to writing about Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno, I've been writing about the state House committee chairman who has been smothering bills that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to name and confront their abusers.

Among other comments, I received a remarkable note from a victim of child sex abuse, which I'll share with you at the end.

These bills, which grew out of a Philadelphia grand jury's most recent findings on clergy abuse and coverups involving the Philadelphia Archdiocese, are House Bill 832, which would repeal the statute of limitations from the point of passage forward in civil suits relating to child sex abuse; and HB 878, providing a one-time two-year window for victims to bring civil action in cases barred by the current law.

I encourage you to check out the exchange I repeat there involving written communication between House Judiciary CommitteeChairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin; Maureen Martinez of the organization Justice4Pakids; and legal scholar Marci Hamilton.

I also talked to Harrisburg lawyer Ben Andreozzi, who represents one of Sandusky's alleged victims and offered an example that rebuts the idea that a two-year window in the statute of limitations would only open the door for ancient cases. He pointed out that he was approached last year by a client (unrelated to the Sandusky case) who today is only 29 years old and was subjected to horrendous sex abuse as a young foster child, but is barred from suing because of the present law.

Plaintiffs had until they were 20 years old to bring childhood sex abuse suits under Pennsylvania law until 2002, when the state criminal and civil statutes of limitations for childhood sex abuse were extended to the year when the victim is 30 years old. The criminal statute of limitations was further extended to age 50 in the wake of the 2005 grand jury report about sex abuse and cover-ups in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

This young man had come to grips with what had happened to him, and he wanted to finally publicly name and face his abuser, an important step for many of these victims. But because he had turned 20 just a few months before that 2002 law passed, his claim was time-barred.

I urge all of you to contact your state legislators — and Marsico,whose Capitol office phone number is (717) 783-2014 — to tell them you want these bills to get a fair airing and a vote instead of being entombed.

Here's an entry I received over the weekend on my blog post "Victims' Rights."

"As a victim of child sexual abuse, I can say from a personal perspective that these bills are imperative," wrote Thomas Burick of Westmoreland County. "I was repeatedly molested by a family member in 1982 at the age of 14. I carried that burden around with me for two years until I found the courage to tell my parents what had occurred.

"At the age of 16, I told my parents everything. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I went off by myself and cried for almost an entire day before I found the courage to tell them. I asked them to contact the police and report the incident. I knew he was harming other children as well as myself, and I wanted him in jail for the horrible, despicable things he did to me.

"I don't know if it was fear, or shame, or embarrassment or something else, but my parents refused to contact the authorities. A part of my soul died when that monster molested me...the other part died when my parents refused me justice.

"As an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, I can tell you that the effects of the molestation are with me to this day. Fear, depression, anxiety, mistrust, betrayal and abandonment to name a few. I often wonder if the effects of the molestations could have been reversed or at least lessened had I had the opportunity as a child to prosecute my abuser. I never received my day in court, and that monster walked away only to destroy other lives.

"It is SO IMPORTANT and it would mean SO MUCH to me to confront this man in a court of law and get the justice that I rightfully deserve. I believe with my whole heart that it would give me the sense of closure that I so desperately need."

I asked Tom Burick to call me, and we talked about how long it took him to find the courage to face this head on — and his frustration when he learned that Pennsylvania law would protect his molester.

"The first second I heard about these bills, I was so filled with hope," he said, apologizing as he paused for a moment to fight back the emotion. Finally, he concluded, "… that I haven't had since I was 14."

That's what this is about.

Read more: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/white/mc-bill-white-child-sex-abuse-law-20111121,0,6574231.column

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published this page in News Story of the Day 2011-11-22 08:14:00 -0600
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