Rendell signs broader laws on child sex abuse
By David O'Reilly
Inquirer Staff Writer
Gov. Rendell yesterday signed into law four pieces of legislationthat broaden Pennsylvania's criminal code for investigating andpunishing child sex abuse and other sex offenses.
The bills include most of the measures called for in a 2005Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sex abuse in the RomanCatholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
"I'm thrilled, especially for the children of this state,"Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said in a telephoneinterview minutes before the signing ceremony. Her office conducted thegrand jury investigation and issued its report.
Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, said itwas "very pleased" Rendell had signed the legislation. "We think itsends a message that children are a priority in Pennsylvania, andkeeping them safe is everyone's responsibility," Farrell said.
The new laws hold employers or supervisors criminally liable forpreventing or interfering with the reporting of child abuse, or forplacing a child in the care a person known to abuse children.
They also set a minimum prison term of 10 years for the rape of achild, close a loophole in the reporting requirements for child sexabuse, and give future victims of child abuse until age 50 to bringcriminal charges against their assailants.
"Today is an extraordinary day for victims of sexual assault inPennsylvania, and especially for the youngest victims," Rendell said atthe signing ceremony. "It is past time that the criminals who committhese despicable acts receive the severe punishment they deserve."
Another of the laws authorizes a standardized rape kit thatinvestigators and hospitals can use to collect evidence from victims ofsexual assault.
"It's just a great day for children," said Cathleen Palm, executivedirector of the Protect Our Children Committee, an advocacy groupcomprising many child welfare organizations across the state.
"But what we have achieved is just one of the many steps needed toprevent child abuse and protect children," Palm said. "I just hope wedon't lose the sense of urgency that got us this far."
Advocates for Senate Bill 1054, which contained most of thelegislation proposed in the grand jury report, had feared it was doomedin late October when the House broke for the election season. It laterpassed the Senate and House with only one negative vote.
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