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Pennsylvania Debates Statutes Of Limitations For Child Sex Abuse Crimes


For most crimes, prosecutors have to keep close tabs on a stopwatch. They have a limited amount of time in which to charge someone for an offense because if too many years pass, you can't prosecute the crime anymore. Memories fade. So does evidence. Some states, though, are revisiting their statutes of limitations for sexual assault and abuse. Pennsylvania is one of those states.

Lawmakers there are currently debating a bill that would eliminate the state's criminal statutes of limitation on child sex abuse crimes. It would also amend the law to allow adult victims of child sex abuse more time to file civil claims. State Representative Mark Rozzi is supporting the Pennsylvania bill. And we'll hear from him in a moment. But before we begin, we should say this conversation does include a sensitive discussion of sexual abuse. Representative Rozzi joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARK ROZZI: Thank you for having me on, Rachel.

MARTIN: Start off by just telling us what this bill would do exactly and what added protections it would provide to victims of sexual abuse.

ROZZI: Well, the bill does three main things. Number one, it eliminates the criminal statute of limitation moving forward, which is just huge for victims. It also moves the civil statute from 30 to age 50, which, again, is huge for victims to give the time they need to come forward. But the biggest part of this bill is the retroactive component, which will also make the bill retroactive up to age 50. So anybody who had been abused in the past who is time-barred from filing a civil lawsuit will now be able to go to the courts and have their voices heard.

MARTIN: And I understand you have a personal connection to this bill. You yourself were victim of child sexual abuse.

ROZZI: Yes. Unfortunately, you know, myself and a lot of my childhood friends was sexually abused and raped in 1984 by Father Edward Graff at Holy Guardian Angels Parochial School in Reading, Pa. But for me, it was in 2009 when my second childhood friend killed himself that I started digging into the laws of Pennsylvania and seeing why bills were sitting in committees and why legislation that could help victims wasn't running. And that's what led me to run for office and get elected in 2013 to serve the 126th District.

MARTIN: The Catholic church has been very vocal in opposing the idea of extending the statutes of limitations on these crimes because they say it will end up bankrupting parishes.

ROZZI: Every state that this has happened in, they say the exact same thing. Now, when they file their bankruptcy, they file organizational bankruptcy, usually to basically make sure that victims get the least amount of money as possible. And I think that people are tired of their excuses. I know the people of this commonwealth what change. And that's something that I'm hopefully - the Senate will - you know, we know they're going to have hearings on the constitutionality coming up June 13. And we expect that bill to move forward. And we know Governor Wolf will sign it.

MARTIN: Beyond the clergy special abuse crisis, though, one of the argument for keeping the statutes of limitations the way they are is that they impose a time limit and force victims to come forward sooner, when the memories are fresh, when the evidence is - is still there and clearer than it would be years, even decades later. How do you respond to that?

ROZZI: Put yourself in my situation. In 1984, when I was in that shower getting raped, I had only two years civilly and five years criminally to come forward. I was age 13. Number one, I didn't even know what a statute of limitation was. And number two, I wasn't going to tell anybody about that because the embarrassment, the guilt, the shame that would be brought upon me from my friends, my family. Now, when you suffer this type of trauma, you don't forget. The church would want us to forget. But victims don't forget. They're going to need to be held accountable in the end. That's the bottom line.

MARTIN: You are pushing this bill at a time when there's a lot of focus on statutes of limitation related to high-profile cases of abuse like Bill Cosby, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Would you consider broadening your legislation to address all forms of sexual assault?

ROZZI: Absolutely. But at this point, this is the compromise that we were able to work with. Moving forward, and, you know, my main mission is to get House Bill 1947 passed in the Senate and on to the governor. And now, will we come back and address other changes in the following years? Absolutely. I want to be able to say that Pennsylvania is number one in protecting our children. And right now, I cannot say that.

MARTIN: Pennsylvania State Representative Mark Rozzi. Thank you so much for talking with us.

ROZZI: Thank you for having me on, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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