By Kathy Kane
On Tuesday Justice4PAkids traveled attended a press conference on PA House Bill 832 and 878 at the PA capitol building in Harrisburg.
John Salveson, of the Foundation to Abolish Sex Abuse (FACSA) opened the press conference by speaking of his own abuse by a priest when he was 13 and the response of the Church when he brought his claims of abuse forward. In an ironic turn of events, a rally for the school choice vouchers was being held directly after the press conference addressing the child sex abuse legislation. The capitol was flooded with school children, many from Catholic schools. As John was speaking, a group of children in Catholic School uniforms walked through through the rotunda. It was a surreal experience to hear the words from John’s past and look at the Catholic school children of today.
Last month we were joined in Harrisburg by a rabbi from New York who has been involved in protecting children within in his community from child sex abuse. On Tuesday another rabbi, this time from the Harrisburg area, attended the press conference. He introduced himself, telling us that ever since an incident of child sex abuse within his congregation a few years ago, he has been involved in the cause. He is interested in joining us in our legislative efforts. He was soft spoken but passionate about the protection of children. There were many Pa. State Representatives present at this conference, as well as a very good turnout of media.
The Penn State crisis has focused attention on necessary legislative reform in Pennsylvania. Along with speakers addressing the need for statute of limitation reform, there was also discussion of legislation that would improve the Mandatory Reporting laws. Many speeches were peppered with references to both the Grand Jury reports of the Philadelphia Archdiocese and Penn State.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Louise Bishop, the sponsor of House Bill 832, spoke at our press conference last month and again was on hand this past Tuesday. Rep Bishop is a very polished and professional Representative who has spoken to many audiences throughout her career. At our press conference last month she delivered a passionate and informed speech. On Tuesday however we saw something very different. When Rep. Bishop began she stammered a bit and seemed to lose her place. A few minutes into her speech Rep. Bishop explained her demeanor. At age 12, Rep. Bishop was raped by her stepfather. We were no longer standing in the Capitol rotunda, we were now in the bedroom of a scared child. Her stepfather entered her bedroom and raped her on a night when her Mother was not at home.
Bishop described the emotions that she felt as a child, the fear, confusion, embarrassment. Not wanting to tell her family of the abuse because she feared the reaction. She talked about how from that point as a child, she learned how to keep herself safe so another attack could be prevented. Before our eyes, this polished politician transformed into a 12 year old little girl. She looked so vulnerable, so tiny, so child like. It was amazing to witness this happen and there was not a dry eye in the room by the time she finished her speech. She said that she was nervous “down to the tips of her toes” about delivering this speech and sharing her own personal story of abuse. Her ending comment was “I have may have spoken too long today, but I have waited far too long to speak.” When Rep. Bishop finished and returned to stand with her fellow legislators, it appeared the emotion of it all was simply overwhelming her. Someone got her a chair so she could sit down; colleagues were holding her hands, rubbing her shoulders.
A short time later Republican State Rep Denny O’Brien spoke and called Rep. Bishop back up to the podium as he delivered his passionate speech about what we need to do for the children of Pennsylvania. He stood with his arm protectively around his Democratic colleague, holding her up so she could stand with him.
I have often said that I want to take my children with me to one of my trips to Harrisburg. I want to show them the legislative process, have them meet some of the State Reps, attend a press conference. I thought it would be a good lesson to show how a legislative process unfolds. I wish I had taken my children with me yesterday. It is difficult to be a child in Pennsylvania right now. It seems there are far more fallen leaders who have failed children, than heroes who have stood up for them. I wish they were there so I could point to Rep. Bishop and tell them “there is a hero.” I wish they could have seen the support Rep. Bishop received from her Democratic and Republican colleagues. I may have wanted to bring them there for a lesson in government but they would have left with a lesson in humanity.