Pennsylvania Child Sexual Abuse Civil Statute of Limitation (Lookback Window) Reform

Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts

For many child sexual abuse survivors, it can take years to come to terms with their abuse. Victims of child sexual abuse need time to fully process what happened to them during their childhood and to understand that it was, in fact, abuse. Feelings of fear, shame, guilt, or embarrassment may also prevent victims from sharing their experiences or pursuing justice against their abusers.

Pennsylvania attorney for institutional sexual abuse victims Andrew Shubin explains the reform on child sexual abuse civil statute of limitations in Pennsylvania and what this means for a victim looking to take action against their abuser.

Demanding that All Survivors, No Matter Their Age, Have Access to Justice and the Right to Hold Perpetrators and Enabling Institutions Accountable

  • 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • 82.9% of child sexual abuse survivors did not report any of the rapes they experienced during their childhood.
  • 52 years old is the average age at the time of reporting child sex abuse.
  • About 1 in 5 survivors never disclose the abuse.
  • More severe abuse, long durations of abuse, and higher numbers of perpetrators are related to a lower willingness to disclose.

In response to the well-documented reasons for the delayed disclosure of abuse, many states have already changed their statute of limitations laws to better support victims of child sexual abuse by giving them more time to file lawsuits or creating a “look-back window” which allows abuse survivors of any age a short period of time to file civil claims.  Pennsylvania may become the next state to create a window to allow more survivors to bring claims against abusers and institutions involved in the abuse.

According to attorney for child sex abuse at school Andrew Shubin, who has represented many survivors who brought “windowed” child sexual abuse civil claims, statute of limitations reform is an “urgent priority for victims and members of the public who demand accountability from perpetrators and the institutions that enable and embolden them.”  Attorney Shubin stated that “institutions like the Catholic Church and other religious organizations, private and public schools, summer camps, and child athletic associations have, for far too long, used statutes of limitations as a weapon to protect themselves from accountability.  Shubin added that “we must now demand that our leaders give survivors the long overdue opportunity they are owed to seek accountability.  We must also act, and act now, to punish predators and their institutional enablers, who took steps, often as a matter of policy or legal tactic, to cover abuse up.”

Read more from our lawyer for victims of sexual abuse that occurred at prep school about the current statute of limitations for victims looking to sue an abuser.

Current Pennsylvania Civil Statute of Limitations

A 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury investigation revealed that more than 1,000 children had been sexually abused by over 300 Roman Catholic priests across the state primarily between 1970 and 2000. The grand jury’s report prompted major changes to Pennsylvania’s child sexual abuse laws.

In 2019, Pennsylvania extended the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims –– allowing victims to file civil suits until they turn 55. For individuals abused between 18-24 years of age, the new law allows them to sue until they turn 30.  However, these changes do not affect cases of abuse that occurred before 2019 which still fall under the previous civil statute of limitations. The old statute of limitations gives all adults just 2 years from the date of the abuse to file their case and child victims have until they turn 30 to sue.

While the grand jury’s report recommended a look-back window to allow civil claims for past abuses, and the effort enjoys wide-spread public support, the Pennsylvanian Republican Senate leadership, bowing to lobbying pressure from the Catholic Bishops and their insurers, blocked legislative reform efforts.  As a result, the look-back window issue will be decided through the difficult and lengthy process of attempting to amend the state’s constitution.  Through the amendment process, the possibility for a look-back window may soon fall to Pennsylvania voters.

What is a Look-Back Window?

Only about a fifth of victims disclose their abuse during childhood while many –– some studies suggest up to 68 % ­­–– never disclose their abuse.  Many people do not fully understand that happened to them as children was indeed sexual abuse until they are adults.  CHILD USA estimates that the average age of reporting child sexual abuse is 52 years old.

Recognizing the need to give survivors more time to process their abuse and trauma, many states have created a “look-back window” to give people a renewed opportunity to demand accountability by permitting them to file sexual abuse claims which had expired under an old statute of limitations.  Look-back windows open up a limited time frame during which civil claims that were barred can now be brought against abusers.

Several states including New Jersey, New York, and California have created look-back windows to permit lawsuits that were time-barred under the previous statutes of limitations to now come forward. Pennsylvania has not enacted a look-back window despite the explicit recommendation from the Pennsylvania grand jury’s report on sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church.

Proposed Amendment to Pennsylvania State Constitution

House Bill 14 is a joint resolution proposing an amendment to Pennsylvania’s state constitution to establish a 2-year look-back window, allowing previously time-barred child sexual abuse cases to be filed. The bill has bipartisan support led by Republican Rep. Jim Gregory and Democrat Rep. Mark Rozzi. In January 2021, the House Judiciary Committee voted 24-1 to move the legislation to the full House. In order to pass a constitutional amendment in Pennsylvania, the bill must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and voted on by the public in a statewide referendum.

Since the amendment passed in the previous session, the House and Senate must pass it again in the 2021-2022 session before the amendment can be on the ballot. Pennsylvania voters would then have the power to decide if victims of child sexual abuse will get more time to seek justice against abusers.

We urge you to contact your legislator and request their support for child sexual abuse statute of limitations reform and the creation of a look-back window to ensure that all survivors, no matter their age, can demand justice and accountability from their perpetrator and the institutions that facilitated their abuse.  You can find and contact your legislator and help pass a look-back window in Pennsylvania in this legislative session.

Contact Our Pennsylvania Lawyers for Victims of Sexual Abuse If Your Child Was Abused

If your child was sexually abused in Pennsylvania, aggressive legal action by an experienced Pennsylvania attorney for victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, school, camp, or other institution Andrew Shubin can help. Contact our lawyers for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options against the abuser. We can find your family and victim justice and closure after the tragic event. Call today at (814) 826-3586.


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