Little one security advocates launch billboard marketing campaign in opposition to Sen. Kim Ward

Proponents of child sexual abuse prevention keep their promise to keep Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward over her refusal to pass a law allowing adult child sexual abuse survivors to have their day in court.

This week they carried their fight to the back yard of the Hempfield Republican.

Child USAdvocacy placed two large-format highway billboards – one on Route 119 in Hempfield and a second on Route 30.

These include photos of Ward, Governor Tom Wolf and the dark image of a child sitting cross-legged with his head in his hands with a message urging the two politicians to “do something to stop child robbers.” It calls on the state legislature to pass House Bill 951.

The bill, passed in the House of Representatives last spring, would have given adult child sexual abuse survivors a two-year window to file claims beyond the statute of limitations. The Senate Judiciary Committee later approved the measure, and proponents said they had overwhelming support in the Senate.

Ward declined to put the bill to a vote, however.

It was a bitter disappointment to child safety advocates who had advocated such a measure for years. They saw support build after the 2018 statewide grand jury report, which listed hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up of children by clergy in Catholic dioceses across the state.

The Senate stand was the second near-failure in a year for those who wanted to open the courts to old grievances.

Just a few weeks earlier, a measure to amend the constitution to create a window of opportunity, which was planned for a referendum in the primary elections in May, had been removed from the ballot paper due to an advertising oversight by the Wolf administration.

In seeking an alternative route to justice, abuse survivors and advocacy groups campaigned vigorously for House Bill 951 until the legislature was adjourned for the summer.

The billboards are their latest volley in their longstanding battle.

Marci Hamilton, constitutional lawyer and founder of Child USA, has worked on statute of limitations reforms across the country. She said lawyers for several organizations, including the SNAP, a national association of clergy abuse survivors, and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape have partnered with her group and are working with abuse survivors to help drive change in Pennsylvania.

“We’re not going to stop this,” said Hamilton. “We’re going to be doing more posters in September, and we’re planning a rally in Harrisburg (September 20th) when the legislature comes back.”

Wasn’t convinced

Ward, who has been targeted by interest groups since last spring, does not budge from her stance.

“The Pennsylvania Senate agrees that all childhood sexual abuse victims should have the opportunity to face their perpetrators,” said Ward spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright. “We too are frustrated with the schedule, as many believe that the strongest path to justice is through a constitutional change.

“Without this misstep by the Wolf administration, we would not be in this predicament.”

She reiterated Ward’s concerns that legislative action on the matter would be inconsistent with the Pennsylvania Constitution. She added that the General Assembly has resumed the constitutional amendment process and stipulated that all victims from public and private entities have access to the special time window for complaints.

That would require the legislature to pass the bill again at its next session before the amendment could go to a referendum. But she said that’s the best way to make sure it finally becomes law.

“Steps have been taken to advance victims of childhood sexual abuse and any calls that suggest we are delaying justice are simply wrong and an injustice to the common goal we are all working toward,” said Clayton Wright.

Hamilton rejected Ward’s objections.

“This is a classic struggle in states with large Catholic populations,” she said. “It took us 16 years in New York, and I’ve been working on it in Pennsylvania since 2005. But the tide turns in places where you wouldn’t expect it.

“This year Louisiana has a window through, Arkansas has a window, and we have an open window in North Carolina.”

Deb Erdley is the author of the Tribune Review. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected], or on Twitter.

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