According to the National Center for Victims of Crime , one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of sexual abuse. However, Huffington Post reported that only six to eight percent of these cases are reported, making child sexual abuse one of the most under-reported crimes in the United States.
Some victims don’t make the decision to come forward until they are well into adulthood. By then, it may be too late for many of them to seek justice against their abuser. However, Pennsylvania new hope has been given to Pennsylvania victims of child sex abuse.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently voted 180-15 to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits. Under the current law, survivors of child sex abuse have until their 30th birthday to file a claim against the assailant. House Bill 1947, if granted by the senate would abolish the criminal statute of limitations and extend the statute of limitations for civil cases by 20 years, allowing victims to file a sex abuse lawsuit against their accuser until the victims’ 50th birthday.
This is an important victory for Pennsylvania survivors of child sex abuse victims. According to a recent Philly.com article, the current laws are ineffective because it often takes decades for victims to acknowledge and share the details of their abuse.
“Right now, if you’re a victim of sexual violence, you literally need a calendar and a calculator to determine whether or not you can seek justice,” said victims advocate Jennifer Storm, who led asocial media campaign #StormtheCapital to urge lawmakers to support the legislation.
There are many reasons why a sexually abused child does not come forward to report the incident. According to the LACASA Center children do not report sexual abuse because they are ashamed of what happened or they blamed themselves. Some may have been threatened by their abuser and they believe that by being quiet they are protecting themselves or their loved ones. In some cases, the abuser is an admirable or public figure and the victim fears they will be shunned or that no one will believe them.
“Child maltreatment has long-lasting effects across multiple domains of functioning. It’s not just in childhood. It lasts into adulthood, and we are not really thinking about these long-term consequences, and we’re not planning for them,” said Dr. Carole Jenney a professor of pediatrics at Brown University said in the Time article, Most Child Abuse Goes Unreported.
If the senate passes, House Bill 1947, the extended statute of limitations would be retroactive. This would allow adult survivors of child sex abuse between 30 and 50 years of age to seek justice and file a sex abuse lawsuit.