PDAA Applauds Senate Passage of Sexual Assault Legislation
HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) today commended the state Senate for advancing a bi-partisan bill to expand the definition of institutional sexual assault to include sexual assault by caregivers on care-dependent people. The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration.
PDAA Executive Director Greg Rowe explained that the definition of institutional sexual assault currently applies to prisons, law enforcement and schools. The bill would expand the definition to include institutional care facilities and at-home care.
“This legislation responds to the reality that those who are care dependent are often targeted for sexual abuse by their caretakers,” Rowe said. “Care-dependent victims face the same types of barriers to reporting that all sexual assault survivors face, including fear, shame, confusion, and the impacts of trauma.”
Rowe noted that care-dependent individuals also face unique challenges to reporting due to the circumstances that make them dependent upon others for their care. Many care-dependent individuals have physical or cognitive disabilities, mental and physical health struggles, and other conditions that impact reporting sexual assault.
“Care-dependent individuals are at risk from the caregivers because of their vulnerabilities and the power dynamic, including the fact that the care-dependent rely so heavily on their caregivers,” Rowe said.
State Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) sponsored the bill (SB704), which has the support of both PDAA and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). The House has already passed similar legislation, HB 975.
“There is no denying that sexual assault often results in a lifetime of pain and lasting scars for victims,” Senator Baker said. “By enacting meaningful legislation like Senate Bill 704, we can come together to better respect and protect vulnerable individuals across our Commonwealth.”
PDAA thanked Senator Baker and Senator Steve Santarsiero, (D-10), minority chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for their leadership on this measure.
Donna Greco, PCAR Director of Public Policy and Legislative Affairs, said: “When a vulnerable adult is sexually abused, it can have long-term, potentially irreversible adverse effects, affecting their physical, mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, it can also be difficult to spot the signs of sexual abuse in vulnerable adults, which could mean the abuse is allowed to go on for longer without the perpetrator being caught.”
Greco added that sexual assaults of vulnerable individuals occur both in facilities and at home.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Prosecutors across Pennsylvania are observing the month by supporting sexual assault victims who are seeking justice. In a recent article, Kelly Callihan, PDAA Counsel for Policy and External Affairs, said victims who come forward will be treated with compassion and understanding.
“Victims have a voice in the process,” Callihan wrote.
If you have been sexually assaulted, the PDAA urges you to seek help. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You may also contact the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape helpline at 1-888-772-7227 to talk with a counselor who can provide free, confidential counseling and information.