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Standing Up for Victims of Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania

I hate that the first post I'm writing for our blog here at Cohen & Feeley in 2013 is inspired by another tragic, unspeakable event. However, I take great pride in fighting for victims of harm and I deeply believe that part of my duty is to inform others and help in whatever way I can to prevent future tragedies. In today's paper I read that a former priest with the Allentown Catholic Diocese, Bruno M. Tucci, has been charged in Maryland with sexually assaulting a boy in 1981.

Now I sit here contemplating how and what to write about yet another story of abuse of a defenseless child, this time at the hands of a now-defrocked priest, and I'm at a loss. I even hesitate to say "another" because each of these alleged victims is an individual and doesn't deserve to be lumped into a group. We should think and talk about these victims as individuals because it gives them the respect they deserve and it also emphasizes the vast number of victims who these demented monsters left in their path. Imagining the wake of destruction one perpetrator can leave on one victim is horrific. Then we hear that it has happened again, and again, and again, and so on. Especially in Pennsylvania, lately we've heard the horrors suffered by victims at the hands of Jerry Sandusky. Something must be done.

What can we do as individuals? One thing I can do is use my skills and talents as a lawyer, advocate, and fighter to inform people of their rights. The victim in Maryland will hopefully get some internal relief from the criminal prosecution of the alleged perpetrator. In many circumstances, though, victims cannot find help in the criminal justice system due to the limitations of each particular State's Statute of Limitations. The Morning Call addressed this in an article about the "perversion files" of the Boy Scouts of America.

In Pennsylvania, our civil courts allow a victim of abuse to pursue a civil case against the perpetrator, or others who failed to protect the victim, for an extended period of time depending on the circumstances of the alleged abuse. If a child suffers sexual abuse when they are under 18 years old, the victim has 12 years after turning 18 (in other words, until their 30th birthday) to bring a civil action. If the victim did not file a criminal complaint, they will not be penalized in their ability to bring a civil action later.

Obviously we can't bring a civil suit to turn back time and protect the victim from the abuse. What we can do though, is fight for the victims, speak for them, and send a message to perpetrators and organizations that harbor pedophiles that the abuse must stop. All too often, these alleged perpetrators and the organizations that help conceal their heinous activities think that if they hide long enough, they will be free from accountability. This is a false assumption and we can take action to send them a much-needed message. Hopefully, if we speak loud enough and send a powerful message on behalf of the victims, more steps will be taken in the future to prevent these unspeakable acts.

Jonathan B. Acklen, Esquire

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