Before Jerry Sandusky became a household name, the Pennsylvania laws intended to protect children from predators like him were notoriously weak.
Most notably, prosecutors were forbidden from calling expert witnesses to explain the seemingly strange behavior of victims of abuse - the unwillingness to report it, the fact that some victims maintain relationships with predators after the abuse occurred. That kind of behavior is common in cases of child sexual abuse, experts say, but to lay people, it may sound strange and be difficult to rationalize.
That was fixed when the state Legislature passed and Gov. Tom Corbett signed, reforms to the child abuse law that permits such testimony and also expands the statute of limitations, giving victims up until the age of 50 to report such crimes.
Those reforms were way overdue.
Yet, they didn't go far enough.
The same could be said for a new round of reforms recommended last week by the state Task Force on Child Protection, changes prompted by the Sandusky case and the ongoing scandal involving the Catholic church in Philadelphia.
Certainly, the changes are welcome. They include expanding the pool of people legally bound to report abuse and increasing penalties for those who fail to do so.
Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, chairman of the task force, said he believed had the changes been in place in the late 1990s, . Sandusky would have been stopped before he preyed on other children.
The effect of the new laws, as Mr. Heckler put it, is to change that culture, to change how people think of child sex abuse and to make it clear that it must be reported and must be thoroughly investigated.
The reforms, though, fall short when it comes to helping earlier victims of abuse.
The proposed reforms did not address the suggestion, championed by advocates for victims, that would permit victims who were abused outside the statute of limitations to sue in civil court. Victims' advocates believe that it is one of the best tools for exposing predators and, in some cases, those who enabled them.
But giving the task force the benefit of the doubt, it is a measure that should at least be explored and studied, not summarily dismissed as the panel seemed to do in its report.
It's could be a worthy legal tool. It could allow adult victims of abuse to seek the justice that was denied when they were young.
York Daily Record