October 23, 2012

Pennsylvania new law will help sexual abuse victims

Pennsylvania joins 49 other US states to fast track litigation of sexual abuse cases. The new law, 42 Pa. C.S. § 5920 (Expert Testimony in Certain Criminal Proceedings s) was passed on Jun. 29, 2012 or HB 1264 and took effect on August 29, 2012. The law is intended to help victims of sexual abuse particularly minors to prove their behaviors in court or post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of the time minor victims of sexual abuse tend to stay alone and keep mum on their ordeal. And by the time they are ready to seek justice and face their attackers, their credibility is in question due to the passage of time.

Under the statute of limitations, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5552 (c) (3), a child victim is given up to his or her 50th birthday to file a complaint against the perpetrator. The law states: “Any sexual offense committed against a minor who is less than 18 years of age any time up to the later of the period of limitation provided by law after the minor has reached 18 years of age or the date the minor reaches 50 years of age.” The victim can also seek for civil justice pending charges for criminal action in court.

The expert witness will testify in court to give his expert testimony. Expert witnesses are those professionals who have specialized knowledge beyond the average understanding of ordinary individual who had undergone specialized training or education in criminal justice, behavioral sciences or victim services issues to address victims of sexual violence. They usually refer to counselors, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, victim advocates, social workers and other professionals who possess specialized knowledge and skills to study the victim’s behavior and responses after the incident including testimonies on the victim’s medical condition.

Most of the time, the perpetrator is known to the child which makes it difficult for them to discuss their situation openly. These include individuals close to the family like neighbors, trainers, teachers, priests, coaches, doctors, and worst, the relatives of the victim. The expert is required to work with the victim for a certain period of time to observe the behavior of the victim before he is required to testify in court. The law had received unanimous support in the General Assembly which took around 6 years in the making.