We recently wrote about the strong passage of House Bill 1947 in the Pennsylvania House. If passed in the Senate and signed into law, the measure would give many more victims of child sex abuse an opportunity to hold their abusers (and the institutions they worked for) accountable in criminal and civil court.
In the last decade or so, Pennsylvania has seen more high-profile sex abuse scandals than perhaps any other state. While it is wonderful that legislators are finally taking this decisive action, we must wonder why it took so long.
That being said, there is one legislator who deserves much credit for his work on behalf of child sex abuse victims. Representative Mark Rozzi, from Berks County, originally campaigned for office on a platform that included statute-of-limitations reform. As many Pennsylvanians know, Mr. Rozzi’s dedication to this cause stems from his own traumatic experiences as a victim of clergy sex abuse.
Rozzi was raped by a priest in middle school. And, like many victims, he couldn’t bring himself to report what happened. That same priest went on to sexually abuse several of Rozzi’s friends. Three have committed suicide as adults within the past few years.
Rep. Rozzi could not speak about the abuse he suffered until he was 39 years old. Thankfully, he now serves as a voice and an advocate for other victims. At age 44, he still feels guilty about not reporting what happened to him as a boy. He said: “If I had spoken up when I was 13 or 14, I probably could have saved a lot of my friends. I feel a lot of guilt. I came here to do this.”
Child sex abuse has many devastating consequences, and Mr. Rozzi’s words provide an example of some common ones. Too many victims feel shame, embarrassment and guilt over what happened to them and their inability to help others. Obviously, these feelings are unwarranted, as blame lies squarely with the perpetrator. But kids cannot be expected to understand and process what they have suffered, which is partly what makes them so vulnerable.
The effects of child sex abuse can last a lifetime. Victims deserve to seek justice whenever they are ready to do so. These changes to SOL laws are a big step toward that goal.