The office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is “seeking to include the testimony of an additional 13 alleged victims as it prosecutes a Lancaster County doctor accused of sexually assaulting six males,” LNP’s Lindsey Blest reported last week. “Most of the alleged additional accounts happened beyond the statute of limitations, so criminal charges cannot be filed in them. ... The attorney general’s office is asking for some or all of the alleged victims to be allowed to give testimony to show accused Dr. William Vollmar’s modus operandi or ‘MO,’ according to the filing.”
This is what we know for sure about Vollmar: He was the physician for schools and school districts serving Lancaster County students (Conestoga Valley, Lampeter-Strasburg, Lancaster Country Day, Octorara Area, Pequea Valley, Solanco and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology).
He also has worked at Diamantoni & Associates LLP and Lancaster General Health.
He has been charged with seven felonies and five misdemeanors related to sexual assault and corruption of minors. “He is accused of inappropriately touching six males during sports-related treatments between January 1997 and April 2019,” Blest reported.
The crimes of which he is accused are terrible and trauma-inducing, but his innocence still is presumed.
We hope the judicial process works as it should.
Statutes of limitations
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania law already has failed some of Vollmar’s alleged victims. This is because of the commonwealth’s statute of limitations laws, which are complicated, so please bear with us.
— In Pennsylvania, a criminal case of child sexual abuse must be brought before a victim’s 50th birthday. And a victim of child sexual abuse currently has only until his or her 30th birthday to press a civil claim.
— But child sexual abuse victims now in their 30s and older are covered by prior, even narrower statutes of limitations. They had only two years after they turned 18 to press a civil claim. And before 2002, a criminal case had to be brought before a victim’s 23rd birthday.
As we’ve noted repeatedly — usually in reference to cases of priestly abuse — this is not nearly enough time, given that it takes years, even decades, for victims to make sense of what happened to them as children.
This injustice now extends to at least one, and perhaps two, of the alleged victims whom the state attorney general would like to testify about Vollmar’s modus operandi.
According to the motion filed by the attorney general, one of these alleged victims was approximately 15 when, in 1990, Vollmar pulled down the child’s pants and touched his genitals during a “sports massage.” The motion says the child stopped Vollmar from touching him further (and alleges other, later offenses).
Another of these alleged victims was 17 — legally still a child — when, in “approximately 1997,” during a sports massage appointment, Vollmar allegedly asked whether the teenager was sexually active, pulled down the teenager’s boxer shorts, began to massage the teenager’s upper legs and touched the teenager’s penis.
If the attorney general has his way — and we hope he does — these two will be able to testify in court about what Vollmar allegedly did to them when they were minors. We commend their bravery in coming forward.
They should be allowed to seek justice for themselves. But the byzantine math — factoring in their birth dates, when their alleged abuse occurred, and how many years have passed since then — works against at least one of them (whether the alleged victim who was 17 in 1997 is outside the criminal statute of limitations depends on his birth date).
Justice shouldn’t depend on a complicated math calculation.
The District of Columbia and 44 states have eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, said Marci A. Hamilton, CEO and academic director of Child USA, a University of Pennsylvania think tank aimed at protecting children.
“Pennsylvania falls farther behind every year that lawmakers take no action,” Hamilton said in an email.
She noted that Pennsylvania’s extension of the criminal statute to age 50 “looks less generous with each passing day.”
Legislative efforts to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations and further extend the civil statute of limitations thus far have failed in this commonwealth. As have efforts to provide a “window of justice” — a limited period of time in which older victims of child sexual abuse, who never had the chance to press civil claims, could pursue their cases in civil court.
As Hamilton alluded, such efforts have succeeded elsewhere.
In August, the Child Victims Act took effect in New York state. The act offers victims of child sexual abuse, for whom the civil statute of limitations has passed, a one-year period in which to press civil claims — no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman told Newsweek that the Child Victims Act “is a recognition that child sexual abuse has festered in society, in part because the legal system has sheltered these criminals.”
Not all of Vollmar’s alleged victims were children when the abuse is alleged to have occurred.
Of the 19 described as victims — the six in formal charges and the additional 13 in the state attorney general’s motion to include their testimony — four were minors when the alleged abuse occurred.
The fact that the others were 18 or older doesn’t diminish the harm done to them. And we’d argue that the difference between a 17-year-old victim and an 18-year-old one is just a legal technicality. They both suffer trauma. They both may deal with the humiliation and shame that often accompanies sexual assault.
Hamilton, an attorney and expert on child sex abuse statutes of limitations, argues in a May article on the website Verdict that cases like that of Ohio State University doctor Richard Strauss highlight the need for justice for victims who were older than 18 when they were sexually assaulted.
“The movement toward justice is our society’s way of leveling the playing field for sex abuse and assault victims, who have been silenced by pain, trauma, and a faulty legal system for too long,” Hamilton wrote. “We won’t end this pernicious destruction of the next generation until we have opened the courthouse doors to all of them and let the chips fall where they may.”
In Pennsylvania, though, we haven’t even been able to secure justice for older adults who were victimized as children. For far too many, the courthouse doors remain cruelly locked.
24-hour sexual assault hotline: 717-392-7273
Dr. William Vollmar sexual assault investigation hotline: 1-800-332-6039
To report suspected child abuse, contact ChildLine at 800-932-0313 or online at keepkidssafe.pa.gov