By Susan Rzucidlo, Candidate, State Representative, 158th District
I am disappointed that the Republican House leadership in Harrisburg continues to fail to help victims of abuse.
HB 832 and HB 878 as well as SB 1392, all bills focused on helping victims of past abuse find justice; all were left to die in committee. Recently, state Sen. Anthony Williams brought forward SB 46, a bill to protect students from predators in the schools. It passed unanimously out of the Senate and yet House leadership has chosen to use it as a bargaining chip instead of acting to protect our children. What possible excuse can there be for playing politics with our children’s safety and innocence?
Child abuse crosses all racial, religious, and cultural lines and every economic and educational level. It leaves emotional scars that can last throughout a victim’s entire life affecting all areas of a persons’ life. Studies by the Crimes Against Children Research Center tells us that 1 in 5 girls, 1 in 20 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 and that 90% of individuals who have developmental disabilities will be abused in their lifetime. Victims of sexual assault are more likely to suffer from depression, PTSD, abuse drug and alcohol and contemplate suicide. We must work to prevent abuse, protect those being abused and provide justice and healing for past victims of abuse.
I applaud the passage of Act 33, which increases the number of school professionals who are now considered “mandated reporters.” It is good that more school employees are now required to report suspected abuse and that those reports go directly to the PA Department of Welfare, as well as to their respective supervisor. This is an important step however, we can not forget the past victims of abuse and pretend that they don’t exist. They too deserve justice.
I stand with Justice4PA Kids, legislators like state Sen. Andy Dinniman and Mike Folmer State Representatives Mark Rozzi, and Cherelle Parker as well as others who are working to open a two-year legal window to allow past victims to have the legal opportunity to hold their abusers accountable. Delaware passed a similar law in 2007, it has worked and it has not overwhelmed their courts. Fear and embarrassment often make victims unwilling to disclose or press charges. It is believed that fewer than 10% of victims ever come forward. The average age of disclosure is 42, too late for justice under current laws. Pennsylvania needs to expand the statutes of limitations so that victims can come forward to report their abuse and in doing that, save others from similar abuse by the same perpetrator.
“Expanding the statutes of limitations for sexually abused victims holds predators accountable,” says Justice4PAKids President and Co-Founder Maureen Martinez. “When a victim publicly names their predators, it not only serves justice but can actually prevent future abuse by the same perpetrator. Perpetrators never have just one victim.”
It takes incredible courage to let others know that you’ve been abused. I cannot and I will not blame the victim for not coming forward soon enough for some arbitrary statute of limitation law. When will the Pennsylvania Legislature act with courage and deliver justice to these victims of abuse?
Susan Rzucidlo of New Garden is a the Democratic candidate for state representative in the 158th District.