Pennsylvania Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse

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 What Are the Pennsylvania Statutes of Limitations for Sexual Abuse?

A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum period that one can wait before filing a lawsuit. The idea behind these laws is to ensure that claims are made while evidence is still reasonably fresh and to prevent the threat of a lawsuit indefinitely hanging over someone’s head.

In the context of sexual abuse cases, the statute of limitations refers to how long a victim has to report the crime and potentially press charges or file a civil lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator.

It’s important to file any legal action as soon as possible, not only to ensure compliance with the statute of limitations but also because evidence can degrade, disappear, or become less reliable over time. Witnesses’ memories can fade, and important records may be discarded or lost. The sooner a claim is filed, the stronger the evidence is likely to be.

Civil Lawsuits for Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania

In 2019, Pennsylvania revised its civil statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse. This revision allows victims to file civil actions until they reach 55 years of age. The new law also extends the right to sue those abused between the ages of 18 and 24, permitting them to file lawsuits until they reach 30.

However, these changes are not retroactive and do not apply to cases of abuse that transpired before 2019. These cases remain under the purview of the previous civil statute of limitations. Under the old legislation, all adult victims had a 2-year window from the date of the abuse to file their case, and victims who were minors at the time of the abuse had until they turned 30 to initiate a lawsuit.

In Pennsylvania, victims of sexual abuse can potentially recover both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages could cover things like medical expenses or lost wages, while non-economic damages could compensate for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other more subjective harms.

A personal injury lawyer can provide valuable assistance in these cases. They can help collect and preserve evidence, negotiate with insurance companies or opposing attorneys, and represent your interests in court. They can also ensure that any claim is filed within the applicable statute of limitations.

Employment-Related Sexual Abuse Cases

In employment-related sexual abuse cases, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may be involved. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to harass or discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s sex, including sexual harassment.

Before filing a lawsuit for this kind of claim, you usually need to file a charge with the EEOC and receive a Right to Sue letter. This letter confirms that the EEOC has completed its investigation and gives the claimant permission to file a lawsuit in court.

Criminal Cases for Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania

The statutes of limitations for criminal cases in Pennsylvania are outlined in Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 5552, which provide time limits for the prosecution to commence after an offense is committed. Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • Major Sexual Offenses: Prosecution for sexual offenses such as rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, incest, and sexual abuse of children must be commenced within 12 years after the offense is committed.
  • Exceptions for Minors and Young Adults: If a sexual offense is committed against a minor (under 18 years of age), the prosecution can be commenced any time up until the minor reaches 55 years of age or if the minor has reached 18 years of age, within the period of limitation provided by law.
    • For sexual offenses committed against an individual who is 23 years of age or younger, the prosecution can be commenced up until the individual has reached 24 years of age or 20 years after the date of the offense.

The potential of DNA evidence in sexual abuse cases can be monumental. As an inert and non-degradable substance, DNA can last for years or even decades, remaining on clothing, bedsheets, or other evidence long after a crime has taken place. With advancements in technology, forensic experts can now extract and profile DNA from samples that would have been considered unusable just a few years ago.

The use of DNA evidence can sometimes lead to the extension of the statute of limitations.

In Pennsylvania, for example, under Section 5552(c.1) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, if evidence of a misdemeanor sexual offense or a felony offense is obtained containing human DNA which is subsequently used to identify an otherwise unidentified individual as the perpetrator of the offense.

The prosecution of the offense may be commenced within the period of limitations provided for the offense or one year after the identity of the individual is determined, whichever is later.

This provision allows for the prosecution of certain offenses even if the original statute of limitations has passed.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario:

In 2002, a 15-year-old girl, Jane, was sexually assaulted. At the time, Jane didn’t immediately report the crime due to fear and trauma. A year later, she mustered the courage and reported the crime to the police. Evidence was collected, including a rape kit, but unfortunately, the perpetrator was not identified, and the case eventually went cold.

Fast forward to 2023, the police department decided to re-examine cold cases using newer, more advanced DNA technology. Jane’s case is among those chosen for this review. The rape kit that was collected 20 years ago is reprocessed with new technology, and this time, a clear DNA profile of an unknown male is obtained.

The DNA profile is entered into a national database, leading to a match with a man named John Doe, who was recently convicted for a separate crime in another state. Now, John is identified as a suspect in Jane’s case.

Under the Pennsylvania statute, the usual statute of limitations for a felony sexual assault would have expired after 12 years. However, under Section 5552(c.1), because the DNA evidence was used to identify John Doe as the perpetrator, the prosecution can commence the case against him within one year after his identification, despite the standard statute of limitations having expired.

In this scenario, the discovery and use of DNA evidence not only provided a breakthrough in a cold case but also extended the legal time frame allowing the prosecutor to bring charges against the identified perpetrator, offering a chance for justice to be served.

Do I Need a Pennsylvania Lawyer for Sexual Abuse Case?

If you’re dealing with a sexual abuse case in Pennsylvania, it’s highly recommended to seek out the assistance of a Pennsylvania criminal lawyer.

Consider using LegalMatch, where you can easily find a skilled and experienced attorney in your area. LegalMatch allows you to review the qualifications, availability, and pricing of lawyers before making a decision, ensuring you find the right legal advocate for your needs.

Remember, time is of the essence, so don’t hesitate to reach out and get the legal help you need.


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