Advocates: Pennsylvania sex abuse laws "the worst"

Pennsylvania state map CBS/AP

CBS/AP

NEW YORK - Over 100 advocates gathered Tuesday in Harrisburg to push for reforms to Pennsylvania's child sex abuse laws in the wake of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal.

"The Pennsylvania law is the worst on this issue," says legal expert Marci Hamilton. Under Pennsylvania law, child sex abuse survivors must file civil suits before they turn 30. The law was enacted in August 2002, but survivors who turned 20 before the law was enacted do not get an extended statute of limitations and are barred from filing suit against their perpetrators.

Some of Jerry Sandusky's alleged victims may never be able to file suit against him because of Pennsylvania's unique statute of limitations.

Complete coverage: Penn State scandal

For example, a ten-year-old abused in July 1992 would not be able to file suit even though that child would only be 29 today. Sandusky would have been 48 years old in 1992, and, Hamilton says, "I guarantee that Sandusky has victims out of statute. No one starts abuse at 50."

A bill, introduced into Pennsylvania court earlier this year, would provide a one-time, two-year window in which alleged victims could bring a civil action in cases previously barred by the current statute. California and Delaware have both enacted temporary windows, and in California, a one-year window revealed over 300 previously unidentified child predators.

More Sandusky accusers come forward

Statute of limitations constraints are particularly problematic for child sexual abuse survivors, since many victims take decades before they are emotionally ready to confront their abusers.

Tammy Lerner of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, was abused from age four to age 12, but by the time she felt strong enough to seek justice at age 27, she was barred by Pennsylvania law. "The only way he can be brought to justice is for him to abuse another child and for that child to come forth," said Lerner. Lerner is hopeful the proposed bill will offer her an alternate legal mechanism to charge her abuser.

"This law is my only hope of publicly identifying him. It would mean that I would be empowering parents to be able to protect their kids from this predator. I would finally be able to give them the gift of his name," Lerner said.

Sex abuse survivor and reform advocate Matt Conaty said the window in Delaware "[e]xposed molesters who were still working with children ...and it has put communities on notice that very dangerous men live among them." Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Michigan and Wisconsin are all considering similar legislation.

The bill has been stalled in the Pennsylvania Judiciary Committee since March of this year. Majority Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Ronald S. Marsico did not respond to CBS News' repeated requests for comment.

"I am 100 percent certain that there are Sandusky victims from the 70's and 80's who will be in the same situation I am," says Lerner.

None of the eight alleged victims listed in Sandusky's grand jury indictment are barred from suing him, but experts agree that there will be more alleged victims to come forward. For some of them, the courthouse door will be locked.

  • Paula Reid

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