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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: December 7, 2018 01:07 PM
From: Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr.
To: All Senate members
Subject: Shielding Rape Victims from Irrelevant Cross Examination
In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation strengthening the Commonwealth’s Rape Shield Law. This legislation seeks to carefully expand the law to cover instances where the rape victim may be asked about prior victimization or allegations of victimization that he or she has made.

Pennsylvania’s rape shield law is designed to protect the victims of sex crimes during criminal proceedings. Current law prevents defendants from introducing evidence of a victim’s past sexual conduct because the character and sexual history of a victim is not prohibitive to the guilt or innocence of the defendant. In the same vein, victims of sex crimes may be shamed because of prior behavior that is irrelevant.

Current law contains an unfortunate loophole. Victims of sex crimes can still be cross examined about times they were victimized, such as child abuse or assaults. Asking a victim about times in the past when he or she was a victim, or claimed to be a victim, is another unfortunate way to dismiss the victim’s character or try to demean them in open court, and can ultimately discourage victims from coming forward.

Importantly, the rape shield law does not bar admission of such evidence in all circumstances. Evidence that could explain objective signs of physical trauma or to establish specific bias as a motive to fabricate is admissible, and would continue to be admissible under this legislation. Instead, this bill will narrowly expand the rape shield law to cover instances of allegations of prior victimization.

This bill also expands the crimes subject to the protections under the rape shield law to human trafficking, incest, endangering the welfare of children (if the conduct involved sexual contact with the child), corruption of minors, sexual abuse of children, and sexual exploitation of children.

Please join me in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation.

Introduced as SB431