More Than 400 Have Called Pennsylvania's Hotline Since Clergy Sex Abuse Report State investigators are listening to all the new calls of horrific abuse and say they are committed to vetting and pursuing them as far as the law will allow.
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More Than 400 Have Called Pennsylvania's Hotline Since Clergy Sex Abuse Report

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More Than 400 Have Called Pennsylvania's Hotline Since Clergy Sex Abuse Report

More Than 400 Have Called Pennsylvania's Hotline Since Clergy Sex Abuse Report

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The phone lines at the state attorney general's office in Pennsylvania have not stopped ringing. Hotline numbers have surged with calls in the aftermath of a scathing grand jury report which describes decades of child sex abuse and a massive cover-up by the Catholic Church. As Bobby Allyn of member station WHYY reports, officials are scrambling to keep up with hundreds of new tips that are coming through on a clergy abuse hotline.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was wrapping up his live-streamed address in Harrisburg last week. It was on the release of a grand jury report detailing how more than 300 Pennsylvania priests abused over a thousand victims in the Catholic Church since the 1940s. And he made a call-out.

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JOSH SHAPIRO: If you are listening to this news conference and you know of sexual abuse being committed by a priest or a member of clergy against yourself or anyone else, please call us.

ALLYN: More than 400 calls have come in in the weeks since the report was made public. Joe Grace is a spokesman for Shapiro. He says state officials are pulling investigators from other departments to handle the deluge.

JOE GRACE: We've deployed agents from our child predator section and brought them over to answer and respond to these calls that are coming into the hotline.

ALLYN: Melanie Sakoda with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests says the group's own national hotline has also seen a surge in calls since the report was released.

MELANIE SAKODA: Were we prepared for it? No. We have been caught a little bit short-handed.

ALLYN: Sakoda says some are concerned Catholics looking for ways to help. Others are survivors of sexual assault who have questions.

SAKODA: My abuser's on the list. You know, what should I do? Or, they're saying my abuser isn't on the list. What should I do?

ALLYN: Laws in Pennsylvania bar anyone over the age of 30 from filing a civil lawsuit against a child sex abuser. And a criminal case involving child sex abuse must be started before the victim is 50 years old. According to University of Pennsylvania law professor Marci Hamilton, those are some of the most outdated child abuse laws in the country. Her advocacy group called Child USA has found that the average age of someone coming forward with child abuse is 52.

MARCI HAMILTON: For the state of Pennsylvania to be stuck on an age limit on being able to press charges is unusual at this point and puts them definitely in the minority.

ALLYN: But for some of those calling in, justice in the court system is not the only end goal. Hamilton says talking to someone about the abuse can be cathartic and can help a survivor move on. But she says the experience can cut the other way, too.

HAMILTON: Well, now they have to make a decision. Do I tell my wife? Do I tell my children? Do I now talk to the media like the other survivors are doing?

ALLYN: State investigators, Hamilton says, may be limited in their ability to help someone process these kinds of traumatic questions.

HAMILTON: So it is a very difficult thing to decide to do. And it can be extremely stressful. And it can bring on some of the demons that have visited them because of the abuse.

ALLYN: Joe Grace with the Pennsylvania attorney general's office says cases generated from the 2-year-old clergy abuse hotline helped shape the nearly 900 pages of grand jury findings. And investigators are listening to all the new calls of horrific abuse.

GRACE: They're recording facts. And then decisions will be made and are being made to investigate further where it is appropriate.

ALLYN: Meanwhile, supporters of child abuse victims are lobbying state lawmakers to pass new legislation in Pennsylvania that would allow victims more time to seek justice.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF RHIANNON BANNENBERG'S "TO FINALLY BE SEEN")

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