(HARRISBURG) – Marking the start of April as ‘Sexual Abuse Awareness Month’, the state Senate voted overwhelmingly today, to advance bi-partisan legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Baker (R-20), which will expand institutional sexual assault to include assaults by caregivers on care dependent individuals. This expansion will eliminate the gap that permits perpetrators to falsely claim that their victim consented.
Senator Lisa Baker emphasized that every case of sexual assault is a horrific tragedy, and all forms of abuse and harassment are intolerable. Senate Bill 704 responds to the appalling reality that those who are care dependent can be targeted for sexual abuse by merciless caretakers.
Holding those who prey on this vulnerable population accountable is especially difficult under existing law. These victims can face the same types of barriers to reporting that all sexual assault survivors face – fear, shame, confusion, and coping with the impacts of trauma. However, they also face unique challenges to reporting sexual abuse, due to the circumstances that make them dependent upon others, including physical or cognitive disabilities, and mental and physical health struggles.
“Individuals who reside in care facilities or receive residential care, and the families and the friends who love them, put their faith and trust in our system to provide comfort, care, and protection,” Senator Lisa Baker said. “Pennsylvania has previously provided protection against sexual assault in institutions such as schools and prisons. It is imperative we do the same for the individuals residing in care-giving facilities or requiring at-home care.”
Current law against sexual assault applies to institutions such as prisons, schools and law enforcement. It is premised on the fact that truly consensual sexual acts are not possible where someone is in a position of power over another. Senator Baker noted that both the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association are in full support of this bill.
“There is no denying that sexual assault often results in a lifetime of pain and lasting scars for victims. By enacting meaningful legislation like Senate Bill 704, we can come together to better respect and protect vulnerable individuals across our Commonwealth,” Senator Baker concluded.
Senate Bill 704 now advances to the House of Representatives for consideration.
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