Legislation to Prevent Dependent Care Sexual Assault Passed by Senate Judiciary Committee

(HARRISBURG) – The Senate Judiciary Committee, today advanced legislation to expand institutional sexual assault to include assaults by caregivers on care dependent individuals, thereby eliminating the gap that permits perpetrators to falsely claim that the victim consented, according to Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) and Senator Scott Martin (R-13), who introduced the legislation.

Senate Bill 704 responds to the tragic 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. 

“Across Pennsylvania’s legal landscape, we must constantly endeavor to remove barriers to reporting sexual assault and to add the necessary balance to bring about investigation and prosecution of these horrid crimes,” Senator Baker said.  “Some of our most vulnerable citizens – those in dependency caregiving circumstances – are least protected under existing law. People in various positions of responsibility are frustrated because the insufficiency of state law does not allow them to effectively protect the individuals in their care.  That frustration is shared by law enforcement and judicial officers who all too often, watch cases fall apart because of the incapacity of the victims.”

“This bill takes an important step toward protecting those who rely on others by including in Pennsylvania’s institutional sexual assault statute, those facilities and services where seniors and adults receive care,” Senator Martin said.  “Unfortunately, sexual assault plays out in many different ways and individuals with cognitive and/or physical disabilities are at a higher risk for abuse, including sexual assault. Closing this loophole protects our seniors and other care-dependent adults.”

Currently in Pennsylvania, institutional sexual assault applies in settings such as prisons and schools, and also pertains to law enforcement.  It is premised on the fact that consensual sexual acts are not possible in these situations because when someone is in a position of power true consent cannot really occur.  The same power disparity in relationships exists between caretakers and the care dependent individuals for whom they are obligated and trusted to look after. 

Senate Bill 704 now advances to the full Senate for consideration.

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Kate Flessner (Senator Baker)  kflessner@pasen.gov (717) 787-7428

Terry Trego (Senator Martin) ttrego@pasen.gov (717) 787-6535