A new bill currently circulating in the Pennsylvania legislature will instate, if passed, more intensive punishments for those who try to obstruct or falsify any evidence or information related to child abuse cases, Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin County, said.
Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted unanimously on the bill that will protect the children who have been abused from intimidation or retaliation.
The bill — currently referred to as House Bill 404 — would apply specifically to those involved in child abuse cases.
State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, is one of the supporters of the bill.
“What these bills are intended to do is give to law enforcement and the community at large the necessary tools to deal with these crimes against children,” Conklin’s Chief of Staff Tor Michaels said. “Representative Conklin believes if there's any silver lining in the [Jerry] Sandusky scandal, it is that we have set down collectively the bipartisan way in order to continue to look at ways to improve and protect our children.”
Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator, was convicted in June on 45 counts of sexually abusing children, for which he received a sentence of 30 to 60 years in prison.
The bill was introduced on Jan. 29 by Marsico and is in response to recommendations from the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection. The task force — made up of a team of experts who have had experience working with child abuse cases — was created last year in direct response to the Sandusky child abuse case.
Under the bill, all those protected are not just children who have been abused but also witnesses and even reporters helping the investigations.
“I helped to create the task force as the chair of the judiciary committee,” Marsico said. “One of the recommendations that came out of the report were sweeping changes in the law to protect our children from being victimized by child abusers.”
For some who voted on the bill, the drive for child abuse law reform hit home.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Reading, is also a supporter of the bill but for much more personal reasons. Rozzi said he was abused when he was 13 years old by a priest.
He and a friend both suffered the abuse silently together when his friend eventually committed suicide, Rozzi said. Rozzi now strives to push for major legislation changes to help combat child sexual abuse and allow those who have been abused to come forward.
Rozzi said he believes that H.B.404 was a start, but there is much more that could be done.
“I think it'll give somebody with the knowledge of child abuse the power to come forward knowing they can't be retaliated against,” Rozzi said. “I truly believe there's only one answer to dig at the root of child abuse and that's to open up the two year window [on the statute of limitations] to give all victims a chance to have their voices heard.”
Rozzi said those who have been abused usually come forward much later in life and though the bill was made in response to the Sandusky case, Penn State was just a very small part of a very large problem.
Michaels said that the bill aims to attack the culture that frightens people involved in child sexual abuse situations from coming forward and could potentially save more lives.
“We need to strengthen and encourage people to come forward who have suspicions or direct knowledge about child abuse,” Michaels said.
House Bill 404 is expected to make its way to the Senate floor for a final vote at a later date.