New state fund will underwrite counseling for victims with old sexual abuse claims

Survivors of sexual abuse now can access trauma counseling and therapy under a provision quietly inserted in a Pennsylvania statute of limitations reform bill late last fall.

In addition to extending the time for survivors of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits until their 55th birthday and eliminating the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution for child sexual abuse, the bill provided funds to underwrite the cost of therapy even if survivors never reported their abuse to authorities.

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said it was modeled, in part, after the state’s Victims Compensation Assistance Program, which also provides financial support to victims after a crime has occurred. To access that program, a survivor must report an assault within 72 hours and apply to the fund within two years.

“This waives all of that,” said Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm. “We have victims from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s who were ineligible under the Victims Compensation Assistance Program. We really do hope survivors will access this.”

To date, the program offered through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency has logged only seven applications. Counseling services that can be covered under the new program include mental health therapy performed by or under the supervision of a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed professional counselor or licensed social worker.

The state will provide up to $5,000 for counseling for individuals whose abuse occurred after they turned 18 and up to $10,000 for those who were abused as children.

The need for counseling and therapy for those who suffered for years in silence became glaringly apparent in recent years as investigative grand juries unearthed hundreds of allegations of child sexual abuse long buried in Catholic Church files and adult survivors began to come forward.

Many adult survivors told of nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide attempts as they attempted to work through the trauma.

Although Catholic dioceses and archdioceses offered compensation funds and agreed to underwrite counseling costs, Storm said lawmakers realized sexual abuse survivors outside the church often had nowhere to turn for help.

“We know that 90% of survivors of sexual abuse were not affiliated with the Catholic Church. So, that left out a lot of people,” Storm said.

Alison Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, said her organization, which has provided counseling to sexual abuse survivors free of charge for four decades, can attest to the need for such services. She said about 1,000 survivors a year turn to the agency for counseling and therapy.

Smaller communities and rural areas often lack such resources, leaving abuse survivors to travel great distances and pay out of pocket.

“Survivors all over Pennsylvania will be better served with this,” Hall predicted.

Karen Evans, advocacy program manager at the Blackburn Center in Greensburg, agreed.

“I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. Victims try to get counseling but, especially when they don’t press charges, counseling won’t be paid for and that can be expensive. Even when they use their insurance, the co-pays are so high they just can’t afford to be consistent with it,” Evans said.

Survivors can access application forms for the new program online at, by calling 800-233-2339 or emailing [email protected]

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Published at Tue, 11 Feb 2020 23:01:56 +0000

Source: New state fund will underwrite counseling for victims with old sexual abuse claims.

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