Maureen Martinez, of East Whiteland, and Bob Riley, of Tredyffrin, founded Justice4PAKids soon after the Philadelphia Grand Jury’s 2011 report on the investigation of sexual abuse by clergy.
“Maureen and I met at a meeting down in Philadelphia where there was some grassroots people frankly trying to form some force to make a difference,” said Riley, vice president of the organization.
But the meeting was a group of Catholics focused on the scandal within the Archdiocese, and Martinez and Riley realized child sex abuse was a larger issue.
The organization works in two ways – education and legislation. And its first legislative goal is to abolish the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse. Currently, the statute of limitations for victims is 30 years to file a civil suit and 50 years to file a criminal suit. But the average age at which victims disclose abuse is 42, said Martinez.
“We believe that when you reform the statute of limitations, what it does is it empowers victims to be able to come forward and talk about the person who abused them,” said Martinez. “But it also helps protect community because now you’re able to publicly name these people.”
Like in cases of murder, Justice4PAKids believes there should be no statute of limitations on victims of child sex abuse, and they should be able to come forward at any age.
“It’s something that also helps a victim to heal from a sympathetic standpoint. The victims that we speak to tell us they don’t even care about the money,” said Martinez.
Some victims have told Martinez that they will donate their money to an organization that helps victims with therapy or a crime shelter. Other victims want to deal with the hurt privately, but it is important to give them that choice.
“To be able to be in a courtroom and have that choice to say this is the person who abused me, it does help them to heal,” said Martinez.
The other legislative piece that Justice4PAKids is advocating for is the two-year window. In the event that the statute of limitations is abolished, the two-year window legislation would give victims who have aged passed the statute of limitations two years to file a civil law suit.
“It allows past victims of child sex abuse to access the justice system,” said a staff member of Rep. Michael McGeehan, a leading legislator from Philadelphia who is working to get these bills passed.
The victims still have to provide proof and go through due process, but he or she has two years to do that before the window closes. If these laws were to pass, than Martinez said the organization would tackle other legislation that needs tightening.
“We’re here to stay,” she said. “If there’s success and it finally passes, we will definitely refocus our energies on other legislation that has to do with child sex abuse that needs help. There’s a whole bunch of stuff out there.”
But the organization’s other undertaking is education. It has held a few seminars and would like to work with the Crime Victims’ Center of Chester County for future education seminars. Martinez said there isn’t enough awareness on the issue and that education is important.
“People don’t want to think that it could happen to their kid and people think it’s the weird man that lives behind the woods,” said Martinez. But “90 percent of all kids who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know.”
And that is a more difficult message, according to Martinez.
“When I’m interfacing with moms, or people in general, people don’t get that,” she said. “Why? Because society is more comfortable with the danger stranger message. That’s what makes us feel safer.”
When Martinez first heard about the sex abuse scandal, she wanted to do something.
“I couldn’t let it go. I needed to learn more, it bothered me so much,” she said.
She did a lot of research, and after Riley and Martinez founded JusticePA4Kids they wanted to change the most difficult law first.
“It just seemed so unfair. It seemed very unfair that victims of any crime would have courtroom doors literally shut to them,” said Martinez.
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