HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Senate this week passed a package of five bills designed to provide stronger protections for crime victims and ensure they have more opportunities to participate in the judicial process. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, is among them.
SB 479, sponsored by Baker, would expand the state’s Tender Years Exception to cover testimony in cases involving child sexual abuse, child exploitation, incest, human trafficking, and other serious crimes. This exception currently applies only in cases of homicide, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, and certain specified sexual offenses.
“Children who have been abused have been violated emotionally as well as physically,” Baker said. “Providing for out-of-court statements helps remove kids from the pressure and intimidation of confronting their abuser in a situation that can easily prove overwhelming.”
In addition to Baker’s bill, the package includes:
SB 399, which creates a comprehensive bill of rights in Pennsylvania for survivors of sexual assault, including rights pertaining to the collection and use of evidence.
SB 425, which would amend the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act to ensure a victim has a right not to be excluded from a trial except in extraordinary circumstances.
SB 431, which would prevent many sexual assault survivors from facing questions during cross examination about times they were victimized previously, such as child abuse or assaults.
SB 469, which would extend the existing Tender Years Exception – which allows certain out-of-court statements to be admissible as evidence – to include individuals with intellectual disabilities or autism.
Nearly 16 million Americans were victimized by crime in 2016, 5.7 million of whom were victims of violent crime.
All five bills passed unanimously and came during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. They were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.