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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: February 25, 2020 12:03 PM
From: Representative Clint Owlett
To: All House members
Subject: Amend the Tender Years Hearsay Act
In the near future, I intend to introduce legislation that amends the Tender Years Hearsay Act to permit the introduction of hearsay statements, made by children 16 years of age or younger, concerning violent or sexual offenses. Currently, under the Act, such statements are admissible if the child was 12 years of age or younger at the time the statement was made and the court finds that the child is unavailable as a witness due to the substantial emotional distress that would render the child unable to reasonably communicate if forced to testify.

In the great majority of violent and sexually violent offenses perpetrated against children, the sole evidence that exists to bring charges against the offender are the statements made by the child to the family, the police or a forensic interviewer at a child advocacy center.

In my district, I have been approached family members of young children who have been victimized by sexual violence and who have been informed by prosecutors that the protections afforded under the Tender Years Hearsay Act do not apply to them because of their age. Sadly, these children have been presented with the seemingly impossible choice of either testifying in an open courtroom before the offender and a group of strangers or watching the sexually violent offender walk free. In some instances, these victims were so paralyzed with fear that they were unable to testify to the facts and circumstances of the case.

This fear of testifying is one of the primary reasons the great majority of sexual assaults go unreported. The child victims in sexual assault cases that do testify are routinely subjected to long periods of cross examination and are often forced to repeatedly describe the explicit details underlying any assault in front of a jury, the media and the offender. By extending the age from 12 to 16 in the Tender Years Hearsay Act, this legislation will add additional protections to child victims and will ensure that offenders are brought to justice.

Please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation to better protect and serve our Commonwealth residents.

Introduced as HB2342