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Will there be justice for sexual abuse survivors in Pennsylvania?

November 16, 2011

The New York Times reported this week that an additional ten individuals have come forward to report that they were sexually victimized by Jerry Sandusky.  Sandusky was arrested on November 5th on 40 counts of child sexual assault.  It is likely that in the days, months, and years ahead additional people will come forward to report on their own victimization at the hands of the former Penn State coach.

Much of the public assumes that as these victims come forward, and report their crimes to the police, the legal system will begin its process of bringing justice to these individuals.   It is a reasonable assumption to make; one would expect that a victim of sexual assault, or a victim of any serious crime,  would have their day in court.

Unfortunately, whether a victim of sexual assault receives justice, depends on the arbitrary statute of limitations laws that exist in the state where the crime took place.  CBS news reported this week on the effort underway in Pennsylvania to reform the sex abuse laws in that state.  Professor Marci Hamilton, an expert in constitutional law, stated that “The Pennsylvania law is the worst on this issue”.  Hamilton indicated that some of Sandusky’s reported victims may be unable to file suit against him because of the statute of limitations laws in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania law requires that survivors of childhood sexual abuse bring their suit before the court prior to their 30th birthday.  The existing law was enacted in 2002, but survivors who were 20 years old prior to the passage of this legislation will find themselves unable to file a suit against the person who assaulted them.

The laws are complicated, but a 10 year old abused in 1992 would not be able to file a suit under existing Pennsylvania law.  Hamilton points out that in 1992 Jerry Sandusky would have been 48 years old, and “I guarantee Sandusky has victims out of statute.  No one starts abuse at 50”.

A bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature that would open a “window” to allow sexual abuse survivors, who had previously been barred by the statute of limitations, to have their day in court.  When a child is sexually assaulted they experience overwhelming trauma, and it often can take decades for them to be able to come forward and report the crime that took place.  Survivors often find that when they are ready to confront their abuser they no longer have access to the courts.  The proposed legislation seeks to change that.

The legislation not only seeks to bring justice to the survivors of the crime, but it also works to protect children today.  Tammy Lerner, who was sexually assaulted as a child, is barred by the state statute from filing a suit against her perpetrator.  Lerner states that a change in the law would enable her to publicly identify her assailant, “this law is my only hope of publicly identifying him.  It would mean that I would be empowering parents to protect their kids from this predator”.

When similar legislation was passed in the state of California parents in that state were made aware of over 300 individuals who posed a danger to their children.

The proposed bill is currently sitting in the judiciary committee of the Pennsylvania legislature.

Lerner adds that “I am 100% certain that there are Sandusky victims from the 70’s and 80’s who will be in the same situation I am”.

The arrest of Jerry Sandusky for child sexual assault, and the revelation that officials at Penn State University covered up those reported crimes,  has focused renewed attention on the proposed child protection legislation that is sitting in the Judiciary committee.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on an emotional press conference that was held in the rotunda of the state capitol in Harrisburg.  State Representative Louise Williams Bishop, revealed publicly for the first time, that she herself is a survivor of childhood sexual assault.  Bishop stated that the Penn State scandal had given her courage to speak about the assault she experienced when she was a 12 year old girl in Georgia.  Bishop, now 78 years old, was raped by her stepfather.

At the press conference Bishop stated “I lived with fears for a lot of years”.  She states that she now has found a renewed purpose as a legislator and is advocating for passage of the bill.

She commented that for many years she asked God what her purpose was as a state legislator in Pennsylvania.  She stated that “I finally got an answer to why I am here”.

The legislation sponsored by State Representative Bishop is being opposed by the Catholic Church.

Roman Catholic bishops have made it a priority to defeat any legislation that would allow a “window” to be opened to give victims of childhood sexual abuse their day in court.  CNN reports that New York archbishop Timothy Dolan has a better idea.  At a press conference in Baltimore Dolan said that the U.S. Catholic Church, under his leadership, would be willing to partner with educational institutions and share their expertise in how to protect children.  Dolan said “we might be able to come with a little wisdom earned the tough way, the hard way, to that table when we have that discussion”.  He added that “One of the things that we’ve learned the hard way – and Lord know’s we’ve earned our PhD. in the school of hard knocks on this one…is that education in this area is phenomenally efficacious”.

Instead of  instructing America’s educational institutions on how to best protect children Dolan should immediately travel to Harrisburg Pennsylvania and inform State Representative Bishop that he will be supporting her legislation.  Dolan should then inform his brother bishops that in the interests of protecting all of God’s children they should do the same.

The Grand Jury Report on Jerry Sandusky is available on the New York Times website and can be accessed here.

From → National Updates

  1. mike ference permalink

    Is Pennsylvania a Pro-Pedophile State?
    You be the judge
    By Mike Ference

    How many grand jury investigations need to be held in PA before the lives of innocent children are deemed more precious and important than dysfunctional sex freaks from the ranks of PA catholic clergy, public schools and universities? This article was written almost three years ago. How many survivors of child sexual assault in PA could have been changed for the better; if only some one in PA government actually did their job.
    PA governmentgive better protection to illegal gambling joints than to our children.
    Here’s the link:

    Former PA State Rep. Lisa Bennington, D-Allegheny County, held a press conference on May 12, 2008 in Harrisburg, PA to discuss legislation known as the Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania, which addressed statute of limitations and identifying sex abusers.

    If the bill had passed, it would have changed the age at which a civil suit could have been filed from until the accuser is 30 to 50, bringing the civil statute of limitations in line with the criminal statute. The bill would also have suspended the civil statute of limitations for two years in child sex abuse cases in which the statute had expired so that people over the age limit could file a suit. And it would have allowed the filing of such actions against child sex abusers and their enablers in both public and private institutions.

    According to Bennington, it was the private institutions (like in Ireland) where offenders were allowed to move on and continue with their lives. “Their victims left behind to pick up the pieces, never getting their day in court and or a chance to see justice carried out. They live with this horrific crime for the rest of their lives,” she pointed out.

    A 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report uncovered 63 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese who had abused hundreds of children over several decades. In some cases, archdiocese leaders intentionally concealed the abuse to protect the church.

    And Bennington stressed, her bill did not target the Catholic Church. Rather, “it pertains to all religious institutions, public schools, youth groups and any organization where child sex abuse has occurred. It would have given all Pennsylvania victims their fundamental right to hold those accountable that afflicted or allowed the abuse to occur.

    Sounds reasonable and seems like a good thing. Similar legislation has passed in California and Delaware in recent years. In California, about 1,000 victims came forward and 300 predators were identified. Yet, there’s one PA lawmaker who strongly opposed the legislation and never even intended to give the bill a hearing.

    State Rep. Thomas R.Caltagirone D., (Berks County), the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said the proposed bill was driven by victims’ desire to win large legal payouts. Caltagirone goes on to say the bill is all about money, not about justice.

    Ironically, Caltagirone was quick to vote with fellow legislators for a 50 percent increase in their pensions in 2001 and the infamous middle of the night pay raise in 2005. The state rep along with other lawmakers chose to take the self-induced pay grab immediately in unvouchered expenses. Many PA residents felt this made the elected officials look like money-hungry crooks, as it was eventually declared unconstitutional.

    As expected, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference deplored the bill. Choosing to continue to protect perverted priests, rather than seek justice. Likewise, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania was also against the bill. And, while Caltagirone officially declared the legislation dead, his puppy-protection HB 39 bill – which would forbid dog owners from performing surgery on their pups – is still very much alive.

    As someone who has been investigating clergy abuse in Pennsylvania for almost 20 years, this writer can’t help but think that something is amiss in the commonwealth – just like things were amiss in Ireland.

    On the eastern side of Pennsylvania the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office issued a scathing report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the high level of sexual abuse among Catholic priests and the cover ups and the reassigning of credibly accused Catholic priests by Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and John Krol and their aides. It should be noted that Bevilacqua first served as Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese before his transfer to Philadelphia. Insiders claim Bevilacqua left his successor, Donald Wuerl, quite a mess.

    For example, while Bevilacqua was still assigned to the Pittsburgh Diocese he agreed to place Fr. John P. Connor, an admitted child molester first within the Pittsburgh Diocese and later, after Bevilacqua took over in Philadelphia Fr. Connor was assigned there. According to testimony in the Philadelphia Grand Jury the arrangement was based on a “tradition of bishops helping bishops.” Sadly, Fr. Connor went on to abuse others and Bevilacqua was found to be a liar according to the grand jury report.

    One has to wonder why the Pittsburgh Diocese voluntarily settled with 32 alleged survivors of clergy abuse. $1.25 million for crimes the Pittsburgh Diocese will never have to admit ever occurred. The settlement would not tarnish the stellar reputation of Archbishop Donald Wuerl who never had to pay a dime of diocese money to any clergy abuse victims during his tenure as bishop in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

    Oddly enough, an underling – so to speak – Auxiliary Bishop Bradley reconciled the situation, only weeks before Bishop David Zubik was to be installed as the new leader of the diocese. So it seems everything fell into place.

    32 survivors received a few bucks, the diocese is off the hook for any future civil or maybe even criminal suits based on the settlement. Wuerl continues to do in Washington D.C. whatever it is that Archbishops do and Zubik was allowed to get a fresh start in the Pittsburgh Diocese without the interference of those civil suits that were resting in limbo for several years.

    The settling of the civil suits certainly allowed for an impressive and dignified installation of Bishop Zubik, no hecklers or demonstrators from any groups with compassion for children sexually abused by Catholic priests.

    And, although I have no proof, nor anyway to calculate, I would be willing to bet the farm that more money was spent on Zubik’s festivities than was awarded to 32 survivors of alleged abuse by Catholic priests from the Pittsburgh Diocese. No big deal, the worst is over.

    Unless of course, somewhere down the road – maybe a year, a few months, a couple of weeks, or perhaps in the next few days – information turns up that the cases of sexual abuse actually occurred and that cover ups were the norm in the Pittsburgh Diocese just like cover ups and shifting priests from parish to parish was the norm in the archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    Anyone with a little common sense would be concerned that a man of the cloth might be tempted to hide crimes of clergy sexual abuse of young children only on the eastern side of the commonwealth of PA and not the western side as well.

    That’s a lot of ifs ands or buts – only time will tell if Pennsylvania is indeed a pro-pedophile state. For now, we can only laud former Rep Bennington for trying to make a difference in the lives of those sexually, physically and emotionally abused as children; as for Rep. Caltagirone – one politician who obviously cares more about puppies than children – maybe it’s time for the law maker to rollover and play dead.

    Mike Ference has been an advocate for clergy sex abuse survivors for over 21 years. He has written about the problem and works with clergy abuse families in Pennsylvania and across the United States helping victims work through the corrupt bureaucratic maize of injustice. He attributes much of the problem to corrupt leaders in government, organized crime and Catholic Church hierarchy more concerned about power and money than the salvation of souls. He has labeled the commonwealth of Pennsylvania a Pro-pedophile state where Catholic clergy sex abuse cover-ups are still the norm. Mike can be reached at 412-233-5491 or email him at

  2. mike ference permalink

    True stories from the case files of A Town Gone Bad

    Pennsylvania DA asks FBI to investigate Corbett administration security contractor with ties to pedophile sex ring

    District Attorney Tom Kearney, of York County, PA, has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate longstanding allegations that Corbett Administration security provider Russell Wantz, Jr. has ongoing close ties to a prostitution and pedophile ring centered in and around the York County courthouse.

    An aspect of the growing courthouse child sex and prostitution scandal was covered-up and protected by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett.

    AG Corbett’s office repeatedly refused to prosecute, or even to investigate, those involved — some have close political ties to his office. Corbett, now the governor of Pennsylvania, is also currently enmeshed in another institutional pedophile scandal involving former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.

    To read more visit:

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