Victims of child sexual abuse in New York State have gained some much needed succor in their struggle for justice as it was reported on Wednesday that the statute of limitations on filing suit against perpetrators had been amended in the recently passed Child Victims Act.
By: Fern Sidman
According to a January 2019 article on the Kings County Politics web site, the Child Victims Act, or A02683/S02440, extends the statutes of limitations for criminal cases of child sexual abuse, allowing them to be commenced until the victim turns 28 years of age for felonies and 23 years of age for misdemeanors. Under the current law, cases for the most serious sex offenses can be commenced at any time.
The bill would also push back the statute of limitations to permit civil actions to be brought until the victim turns 55 years of age. Further, the measure creates a one-year window for adult survivors to commence civil cases that, under current law, are barred because the statute of limitations has expired, according to the KCP web site.
The Child Victims Act will also treat public and private institutions the same in these proceedings, removing the notice of claim requirement for public institution. This measure would hold these institutions accountable for concealed evidence pertaining to sex crime cases.
As was reported by Kings County Politics, the issue started over 15 years ago, when former Queens Assemblywoman Marge Markey initiated the battle in New York to reform the statutes of limitation for child sex abuse. New York has been one of the worst states in the country for access to justice for victims, alongside Alabama and Mississippi.
The KCP site also reported that according to the National Center for Victims of Crime “Child Sexual Abuse” fact sheet, there are almost 90,000 cases of child sex abuse reported each year. An estimated 25% of girls and 16% of boys experience sexual abuse before they turn 18 years old. Individuals who were sexually abused at an early age usually experience long lasting mental and emotional distress. According to the Veteran’s Administration National Center for PTSD, psychological issues that present themselves later on in life often include anxiety, poor self-esteem, dysfunctional relationships, eating disorders, and PTSD.
“Today is a new day. It’s a day of hope,” said attorney Jeff Anderson at a press conference. “It’s a day in which . . . the survivors have an opportunity to not only have a voice but have their voice heard and through a public forum.”
The lion’s share of the complaints filed in lawsuits target the rampant child sexual abuse which has endured for decades in the Catholic Church and the schools in various dioceses around the state and the entire country.
According to the Post report, names of more than 60 alleged predator priests were made public for the very first time in more than 275 suits filed by just two law firms against various dioceses.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told the Post that the influx of suits had been anticipated. The archdiocese has been paying sex abuse victims as part of its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. So far, 335 victims have been paid more than $66 million, according to the Post report.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan posted a video on Twitter calling Wednesday “a dark time in the life of the Church.”
“I just want to say that it is a tough time, it is a dark time, it’s especially difficult for our beloved victims,” Dolan said.
According to sources who devoted a substantial amount of their time lobbying for the passage of the Child Victims Act, they claim that certain major religious organizations were fiercely lobbying the state legislature not to extend the stature of limitations on filing suit against houses of worship, religious schools, teachers, staff and personnel.
The sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that in particular, such organizations as the Agudath Israel of America, (who represents yeshiva Jewry in NYC and beyond) and the Catholic Church were the major culprits in trying to get this legislation concerning child rape cases quashed because of financial concerns. The source said, “This year New York passed a law that gives victims one year to file any lawsuit for molestation, with no limitation. After the one-year window closes a victim can sue until he reaches the age of 55. The Catholic Church dropped opposition to these new laws when it was clear they would pass.”
The source added that, “Agudath, on the other hand, has engaged in fear mongering, publicly stating that Jewish day schools will face bankruptcy and close down if victims come forward and sue. Schools that harbor pedophiles should be shut down. Had the Catholic Church and Agudath reported pedophiles to the police, rather than protected them for all these years, there wouldn’t be rampant abuse and molestation in the Catholic schools, Jewish day schools and summer camps.”
Mark Meyer Appel the founder of The Bridge Multicultural Advocacy center who spent ten years rallying the support for the bill called the passage of the passage of the Child Victims Act “a great victory for all victims of sex abuse.” The survivors will now have their day in court confronting their abusers and getting closure to the heinous crimes committed against them.
Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park) a fervent supporter of the bill publicly recounted her own experiences with child sex abuse when she was 10 years old. She vividly explained how dark and alone victims often feel when they are abused.
“Childhood sexual abuse is an indescribably traumatizing experience that can take a lifetime to come to terms with,” said Bichotte. “In many cases, it can take many years for a survivor to be ready to confront their abuser. While we cannot erase what happened, we can give power to victims and help them move forward with their lives without letting the perpetrators of these unthinkable crimes off the hook.