By Sari Heidenreich, Contributing Writer
“I must say to you, after spending 50 years as a communicator … I’ve never been nervous in talking — and I’ve spoken to thousands at one time. Talking to you this morning, and telling you this story that I am going to tell you, shakes me all the way down to the tip of my toes,” said Rep. Louise Bishop (D-Phila) at a Tuesday afternoon press conference to encourage the passage of several bills in the Pennsylvania state house and senate that aim to increase that statute of limitation for sexual assault and the mandatory reporting requirements for school employees.
Bishop went on to tell the crowd of reporters, legislators and lobbyists, how she was raped by her step-father at the age of 12. Though it happened over 60 years ago, she had never told anyone. Even her husband.
“I lived with that fear — all these years. When I got married I never told my husband. … I never told him how I lost my virginity, so he thought I was just being promiscuous. And I let him think that.”
Under current statute of limitations, Bishop’s case is not eligible to be brought before a criminal or civil court.
Current law allows criminal sexual assault charges to be brought until the victim’s 50th birthday. Civil suits must be filed before the victim’s 30th birthday (for incidents that occurred before the law was changed in 2007, victims must come forward by their 20th birthday).
According to the Pennsylvania mandatory reporting laws, school staff members must notify the person in charge of the school when “they have reasonable cause to suspect … that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity” is a victim of child abuse. After being notified, the person in charge assumes responsibility and has the legal obligation to report the abuse.
“If we fail to act now on these bills,” said John Salveson, president of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, of the new proposals, “it will leave our most vulnerable children up against the wall of that locker room shower wondering what it will take for someone to step forward to save them.”
The lawmakers’ actions come in the week following sexual assault charges filed against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. After an three year investigation by the Attorney Generals office, Sandusky was charged with 21 felonies and 19 misdemeanors last week. Long time university football coach Joe Paterno was fired after the University’s board of trustees decided he did not fulfill his moral obligation to follow through on allegations he had heard against Sandusky.
By reporting the incident to his supervisor and doing nothing else, Paterno, however, did not break the law.
But this isn’t right, said Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Phila), and lawmakers need to take action.
“Neither Joe Paterno or Mike McQueary had to report what they saw or heard second-hand. Mike McQueary, according to the grand jury report from Attorney General Kelly, he directly saw the rape of a ten-year-old boy in the Penn State locker room, he merely just reported it up the chain of command. There’s clearly something wrong with that in the current statute. It has to change, because if it doesn’t change, it allow for institutions like Penn State and the Catholic church to cover it up because it’s not in their interest for it to get out.”
“They’ve been in this House judiciary committee for a long, long time. There’s been plenty of time to vet them. The problem isn’t that they haven’t had time. The problem is that they’re being blocked by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,” said Salveson
Chairman Ron Marsico’s Chief of Staff Autumn Southard says that while Marsico has made public a letter making it clear that he does not support HB 832 and 878, “he hasn’t been blocking the bills.”
Southard said his stance on the bills “doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t run them out of the committee,” but said the sheer volume of bills in the Judiciary Committee have made it difficult to bring every one to a vote.
“We have over 300 bills in the committee right now. We have only gotten out 60 of those bills [this session] because there’s just a massive amount,” she said.
Click here for a background and a summary of some of the proposed bills.