Making Child Abuse Easier to Define in Pennsylvania

Dec 9, 2013

Pennsylvania legislators could vote this week to overhaul the state's child abuse laws.
Credit 90.5 WESA

The Pennsylvania Senate could be voting on legislation this week to overhaul the state's child abuse laws.

Three Senate committees have advanced six bills, the most important of which would change the definition of what constitutes child abuse, making it tougher and bringing it into line with the standards used in many other states.

The new wording would include, “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to a child.” It also lists a number of acts that would constitute abuse, such as kicking, burning or forcefully shaking or striking a child less than one year old.

State Senator Bob Mensch says while child advocacy groups had been pushing for new wording before news of the Jerry Sandusky case, that notorious child abuse case served as the biggest catalyst.

“It’s an attempt to provide greater specificity to what is child abuse. The previous standard was something called ‘severe pain.’ Highly judgmental, highly subjective, highly evaluative measure. And one that the law professionals as well as the mandatory reporters had some difficulty understanding.”

For Cathleen Palm, Executive Director of the Protect Our Children Committee, the removal of “severe pain” from the criteria is very important, as well as the lowered threshold from “serious bodily injury” to “bodily injury.”

“You’ll capture more of the situations where children actually have injuries; broken bones, burns, other injuries that right now, because of the serious bodily injury threshold don’t necessarily meet the threshold of what is child abuse in Pennsylvania.”