Child torture could soon be an specific offense in PA, one of only 14 states without law on the books

08 April 2024- Citing an increase in cases involving the torture of a child, including one in Fayette County earlier this year, Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) has introduced legislation establishing the offense of child torture in the Commonwealth.

“Sometimes, the horror these children experience goes beyond abuse, and we need to give our law enforcement officers and the judicial system the tools they need to ensure the punishment fits the crime,” Warner said. “It’s time we recognize some of these crimes truly do rise to the level of torture.”

Warner pointed to the case in Fayette County in which a couple was arrested after an investigation alleged they had beaten and starved their 6-year-old daughter and locked her in a dog crate at night that was covered in urine and feces. Additional details allege the couple forced their young daughter to eat dog food, shot her in the legs with a BB gun and had not taken her to receive pediatric care in more than three years.

“This case defies explanation and, as a father, I cannot fathom how parents who have a responsibility to care for and protect their child could do this to her,” Warner said.

“The despicable actions against a child in Fayette County earlier this year have brought light to a glaring weakness in our criminal statutes; specifically, the lack of a law targeting child torture,” said Fayette County District Attorney Michael A. Aubele. “I commend Rep. Warner for introducing House Bill 2181, and for providing law enforcement the tools necessary to prosecute heinous crimes against our children.”

Last year in Delaware County, a woman was charged for allegedly torturing four minors by choking them with cords, hitting them with bats, branding them with a hair-straightening iron and sexually abusing them.

During the last two decades, child torture has been recognized as a severe and continuous form of child abuse by the medical and legal community throughout the country. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of just 14 states that does not have a child torture statute. Although state law prohibits physically harming a child, gaps exist in situations where a child experiences only mental trauma or the torture does not result in serious bodily injury to the child.

House Bill 2181 would establish the offense of child torture. The charge would be invoked when a person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly tortures a child under the age of 18 who is within their custody or control. Torture is defined as a course of conduct that includes at least one of a detailed list of common acts present in torture cases, such as physically or sexually abusing a child, restraining or confining the child in an unreasonable manner, restricting basic and necessary bodily functions, starving the child or terrorizing the child for the purposes of causing significant emotional distress.

A person convicted under this new offense commits a third-degree felony if the victim does not suffer bodily injury, which is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $15,000. If the victim suffers bodily injury, the offense is a first-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $25,000.