A Message From Mission Kids’ CEO, Abbie Newman:
Healing for Child Abuse Survivors Starts with Legislative Reform
Sadness, disgust and anger are just a few of the feelings experienced over the past few weeks with the release of a two-year grand jury report revealing disturbing details of how 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades. The report brings about a harsh reality that child abuse is a widespread issue and more common than most people think. The report also brings about an important opportunity. An opportunity to educate ourselves on the prevalence of child abuse, an opportunity to help protect the victims of child abuse and an opportunity to bring about reform in the state of Pennsylvania.
Currently, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania allows victims of child sexual abuse to file criminal suits against their accused abuser only until they turn 50 years old. Consequently, of the 301 priests documented in this grand jury report, only 2 are able to be prosecuted. This number is not only disappointing, but extremely frustrating. Victims and survivors of child abuse deserve justice and the opportunity to tell their truth, and we must allow them to do so by eliminating the criminal statute of limitation entirely for such crimes.
For survivors, speaking about their abuse is an important step in the healing process. I am a firm believer that the real prevention lies in talking about child sexual abuse, and bringing it into conversations. Child abuse is a crime of silence, shrouding victims in shame, and fear that they will be blamed or not believed if they report abuse. Consequently, it is estimated that only 10% of cases are ever reported. However, in 2017 alone, Child Advocacy Centers in Pennsylvania, 39 agencies across the state that facilitate team responses to reports of child sexual abuse in their communities, responded to allegations of sexual abuse for 12,504 children. Victims whose truth goes unreported can suffer a lifelong battle of distrust, shame, and depression with trouble developing and maintaining healthy relationships. The abuse has psychological and physical effects that may touch every aspect of their lives. Child Advocacy Centers such as Mission Kids in Montgomery County focus on providing healing and justice for children, but the state of Pennsylvania has a responsibility to protect all survivors of child abuse, even the ones who are now adults.
Although this report focuses specifically on the Catholic Church, the issue of child abuse extends far beyond any one institution, race, gender, or religion. People in positions of power at times use their influence as a tool to assault and abuse children. Attorney General Josh Shapiro stated in a recent press conference, “The time for institutions to place their own interests above protecting our children is over. Now, change and accountability must come.” We must give these survivors a voice, fight for their justice and break the silence on this issue in order for real change to occur.
Abbie R. Newman, R.N, J.D., is the Chief Executive Officer of Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center, an organization dedicated to achieving healing and justice for victims of child abuse. For more information, visit www.missionkidscac.org.