“We got lucky enough to find current victims. Think about that statement for a minute: We were lucky enough that he had current victims who are young enough to fall within the statute of limitations to open up a criminal investigation.”
Those words, spoken by Rev. Jimmy Hinton, were just some of the heartbreaking comments offered by dozens of victims on the Capitol Steps in Harrisburg Monday morning. Hinton and others were there to call on the state Senate to pass bills approved by the House that would give victims of childhood sexual abuse – for whom the statute of limitations has expired – a two-year temporary window to file civil lawsuits against their abusers.
Among the victims who shared their experiences Monday were state Reps. Mark Rozzi, La’Tasha Mayes and Maureen Madden, and members of the Amish and Mennonite communities, including cast members from the Peacock series “Sins of the Amish.”
Misty Griffin, author of “Tears of the Silenced,” the memoir that led to the “Sins of the Amish” series, spoke about her abuse within the Amish community and her fight to bring the issue to light.
“At 22 years old, I fled the community after reporting the bishop of my church for sexual assault. For years I was haunted by the guilt – the guilt of getting out and leaving so many others behind and abusive situations,” Griffin said. “The institutions that cover up this abuse…they must be outed and held accountable.”
House lawmakers narrowly passed the two policies – House Bill 1 and House Bill 2 – back in February when then-House Speaker Rozzi was overseeing a divided chamber in a special session. Providing legal relief to victims of childhood sexual abuse has been a top priority of Rozzi, who was raped by a priest when he was 13 years old.
House Bill 1, if approved, would create a constitutional amendment, giving voters the chance to approve or reject the statute of limitations reform during the November election. House Bill 2 would create a two-year window in statute to allow victims to seek justice. The current civil statute of limitations bars many victims from suing after age 30.
Rozzi, a Democrat from Berks County, was hopeful the House bills would be approved and sent to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk following House passage in February, but more than three months later, the two bills remain in Senate committees.
“Here we are again fighting for our rights as victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse, who have been waiting many, many years for the opportunity for justice, to find out the truth, to hold our perpetrators accountable (and) to hold institutions accountable,” Rozzi said Monday to start the press conference. “It’s our right that we get into the court system to give us a chance to put our lives back together.”
The politicking between Harrisburg’s two chambers, the Democrat-majority House and the Republican-controlled Senate, is a continuation of the monthslong debate over constitutional amendment packages.
The Senate approved a statute of limitations reform bill earlier this year in Senate Bill 1. But that constitutional amendment package, which included language that would require voters to show ID in order to vote and give lawmakers more power to halt gubernatorial regulations, received criticism from Democrats who wanted the two-year legal window for abuse survivors passed in a standalone bill.
To amend the constitution, a proposed change must be approved by the House and Senate in consecutive legislative sessions before going to voters in a referendum. The survivors’ amendment was set to be on the ballot in 2021 but the Department of State failed to properly advertise the proposal and the referendum was not held.
Senate Republican leadership has said the upper chamber fulfilled its promise by passing the proposed window and has urged the House to pass the constitutional amendments in Senate Bill 1.
“The House chose not to act on Senate Bill 1 in time for the questions to appear on the May ballot. It was not until the end of May that the House passed Senate Bill 1, after removing two of the three constitutional amendments,” Kate Flessner, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican Caucus, said in a statement. “While the House decided to remove two of the three measures from Senate Bill 1 as it was passed by the Senate, our caucus remains open to conversations about how to accomplish all three of the important constitutional amendments initially included in SB 1.”
For Hinton, whose father, John Hinton, confessed to sexually abusing 23 children, including Jimmy’s youngest sister, it’s long past time for the two chambers to come together. “The victims who don’t receive justice,” he said, “suffer not knowing, (when) they wake up the next day, if they have to face their abuser – because their abuser’s still out there.”