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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: May 21, 2021 12:33 PM
From: Senator Lisa Baker
To: All Senate members
Subject: Expanding the crime of institutional sexual assault
Please join me in cosponsoring a bill to expand the crime of institutional sexual assault.  The legislation 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. Even if they are able to describe the sexual abuse, they are not always believed, or their reports are dismissed as not credible. Typically, the perpetrator claims the sex was consensual, which in practice obligates the Commonwealth to disprove consent.  Unfortunately, many who are care dependent are not able to fully testify or speak to the issue of consent, which means there is no accountability for the perpetrator.
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. 
My proposal would expand institutional sexual assault to include assaults by caregivers on care dependent individuals, thereby eliminating the loophole that permits perpetrators to falsely claim that the victim consented.  The bill will enable us to better protect those vulnerable Pennsylvanians, who are dependent upon others for their care and survival, including the elderly and others relying on assistance for their most basic needs.

Introduced as SB704