Should There Be A Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes?

This is the debate that should be, but isn’t really, happening in Pennsylvania.  The bills are dying on PA Rep. Ron Marsico’s desk.   Bill White, one of the panelists at the November 17th edition of Beerituality, shares one of the reasons in this post.

To my many Catholic friends and readers: please know that this isn’t meant to single out your faith tradition.  God knows this sin is everywhere.  And it’s also important for the public, Catholic or otherwise, to know where local or regional incarnations of the institution, complete with legislative apparatuses, stand on bills like PA HBs 832 and 878. Given what we know about how long it can take to remember abuse, let alone feel confidant about reporting it, statues of limitations for sex crimes without any kind of “window” for adults recalling childhood abuse seem counter-intuitive to my way of thinking.

What do others think?



Bill White on Specific Sex Abuse Legislation We Must Act On NOW

In my Beerituality recap, I included links to PA House Bill 832 and PA House Bill 878.  In his closing remarks last night, Bill White challenged us with some very specific action.  From Bill:

“The bills, which grew out of a Philadelphia grand jury’s most recent findings on clergy abuse and coverups involving the Philadelphia Archdiocese, are House Bill 832, which would repeal the statute of limitations from the point of passage forward in civil suits relating to child sex abuse; and HB 878, providing a one-time two-year window for victims to bring civil action in cases barred by the current law.    They’ve been trapped in the state House Judiciary Committee, buried by committee chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin County. His number in the Capitol is  (717)783-2014. Callers should tell him – and their own legislators — that they think these bills are important and they want them to get a fair airing instead of being bottled up.”

PA residents, please make these calls.

Beerituality Panelists Discuss the Penn State Scandal and Wider Concerns

Friends, this is a re-post from the Beerituality blog.  Beerituality is a monthly gathering at the Allentown Brew Works in Downtown Allentown that aims to bring people together from across traditions “at the crossroads of the sacred and secular.”

Peter Schweyer, Bill White, Tammy Lerner, and Alan Tjeltveit @ Beerituality (November 17, 2011)

Last night’s discussion featured Peter Schweyer, a PSU grad, Allentown City Councilperson and the Chief of Staff for PA Rep. Jennifer Mann with experience in abuse legislation; Bill White, noted columnist for the Allentown Morning Call, a long-time advocate for abuse survivors and abuse prevention; Tammy Lerner, State Director and Vice President of Abolish Child Sex Abuse; and Alan Tjeltveit, Professor of Psychology at Muhlenberg College.

This was an extremely important night of engaging, educational, and candid reflection and dialogue about the wider context of sexual abuse in the midst of the Penn State scandal.

From Tammy Lerner’s organizational website,, a plea for legislative action: Please contact members of the PA House Judiciary Commitee, and demand they hold Public Hearings on H.B 832, H.B. 878, H.B. 549, H.B 1867 and H.B. 1895

Some of the things that struck me immediately:

  • the need to keep talking about this issue, and to encourage people to tell their stories in safe environments. Speaking out about abuse can help dispel the culture of shame we’ve built up around it, so that victims can be empowered to come forward and legal and civil recourse can be taken.
  • In Pennsylvania, coaches are not mandatory reporters.  In some states, they are. Legislation to make coaches mandatory reporters was introduced in Harrisburg this week.
  • In Pennsylvania, university police departments like those at Penn State or Lehigh University are the accredited law enforcement agencies on campus. Unlike other police departments, these don’t report to any elected official or body, but to Boards of Trustees. There are inherent conflicts of interest there on many levels.
  • The need for changes to statute of limitations laws for these kinds of crimes. Currently, if the criminal and civil statutes of limitations have expired before charges are brought, even admitted offenders cannot be named as such in newspapers or with respect to Megan’s Law. This is an area where better legislation can, indeed, help with prevention.

Thanks again to our excellent panelists for the interdisciplinary perspectives and conversation on this hard issue.  We were blessed to be able to assemble this panel.  In the larger context of advocacy and support, this conversation must continue.