Pennsylvania revamps child sex abuse laws

Pennsylvania's governor on Tuesday signed legislation to eliminate the filing deadline for child sexual abuse prosecutions, giving victims more time to file lawsuits for damages, after major abuse scandals in recent years.

Other parts of the three-bill package make public schools and the government subject for the first time to civil lawsuits by sexual abuse victims, increase penalties on "mandated reporters" who fail to report abuse to the police, and specify that non-disclosure agreements cannot prevent a victim from talking to the police.

"These bills will today become law, and victims of one of the most unimaginable forms of abuse will receive the rights and support they deserve," Wolf said in a statement.

The legislature, however, rejected a measure sought by victims and their advocates to provide a two-year window for victims who had missed the old civil filing deadline to seek damages. The proposed measure will be placed before state voters as a constitutional amendment, a process that could take years.

The state was rocked by the conviction in 2012 of Jerry Sandusky, a beloved former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University, for sexually abusing 10 boys over 13 years. In 2018, a state grand jury report accused 301 Catholic priests of abusing more than 1,000 children across the state.

Other alleged victims of Sandusky and many alleged victims of the priests did not get their day in court because of the criminal prosecution deadline which has now been eliminated. The new law also extends the civil filing deadline for victims abused before the age of 18 to age 50 from 30.

Marci Hamilton, a spokesman for ChildUSA, a Philadelphia nonprofit that tracks child sexual abuse laws across the country, said the governor's action moves Pennsylvania from the bottom of the pack to "about in the middle."

"We definitely did not get everything we wanted," she said.

Her organization seeks to end filing deadlines for both criminal and civil cases regarding child and youth (aged 18-24) sexual abuse. She ranked Delaware at the top of the states for eliminating both.