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Domestic violence laws get an upgrade

The after-effect of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal is still being felt throughout the state. And we are still being updated with new alleged victims coming forward and coothless jokes like that of the Rutgers fans who wore “Ped State” t-shirts during the team’s football game against the Nittany Lions earlier this month. But regardless of all that, there is a real fight against child physical and sexual abuse that has gained another important legal ally; legislators are continually working on new plans to improve state domestic violence laws. These new mandates would strengthen Pennsylvania’s existing criminal code, increasing penalties for offenders who are accused of perpetrating child abuse. Interestingly, those who fail to report the abuse could also face heftier legal sanctions, even though they were not the real lawbreakers in such cases. Pennsylvania has traditionally ranked much lower than many other states in rates of “founded” child abuse reports. That is, proving child abuse is notoriously difficult in the state, with courts requiring evidence of “serious bodily injury” to take action. The proposed measures would remove many of those restrictions, ostensibly allowing for better reporting statistics that will eventually lead to punishment for more abusers. Activists for domestic violence organizations say that the measures may have horrible unintended consequences, however, even though they may punish more people for domestic violence and accusations of bodily injury. In many cases, mothers – and some fathers – are kept in abusive relationships because they cannot afford to leave. Those parents would be punished for failing to report the abuse of their own children, even though they do not see a way out of the situation. Imagine removing a child from his or her abuser’s home – a good thing – only to remove them from the care of the parent they trust because that person is also facing charges. Instead of simply focusing on retribution for those who commit the offenses, experts say that the state should also consider the real needs of kids who are in abusive homes. Proponents of the legislation say the new language does not victimize children, but rather promotes the responsibility of parents who are supposed to care for their children.

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