By: Hadassah Kalatizadeh
Hundreds, or even thousands of former victims of child molestation in New York state are expected to go to court this week to sue their alleged abusers and the respective institutions. Expected defendants include the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, as well as a host of public schools and hospitals.
The Child Victims Act was passed earlier this year after over a decade of deliberation in Albany. The law extends the statute of limitations for molestation moving forward, giving new victims until age 55 to file lawsuits and until age 28 to bring criminal charges, compared to 23 under the old statute. Also, and perhaps more remarkably, the law opens a one-year litigation window for past claims that have been prevented by the statute of limitations, which was one of the country’s most restrictive and which has barred many victims from seeking justice for decades-old abuse. Opponents to the act were concerned about the heavy financial burden this may create for countless large institutions that care for children. This year, with Democrats in charge of the house, the bill was passed unanimously.
As reported by VIN News, Wednesday August 14th will be the first opportunity for those who wish to bring up old suits, during the landmark one-year window granted. “This is my chance to say: this happened to me,” said Michael Schall, 64, who says his scoutmaster in the Buffalo suburbs molested him beginning in 1968 for two years. “It’s affected me in so many different ways in my life, in who I am. This seems freeing. It’s like I’m bringing something to light that’s been held in the darkness for so long.”
It could, however, also propel a year of financial reckoning for the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and other organizations. A similar law was passed in California in 2002, and Catholic dioceses there ended up paying roughly $1.2 billion in legal settlements for cases. “We don’t know exactly what to expect when the window opens,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the NY archdiocese, a compensation fund for sex abuse victims set up in 2016. “We certainly anticipate that there will be lawsuits filed against the archdiocese, as there will be against many other institutions and public entities as well.” The fund, which has already paid out $65 million to 323 victims, is the nation’s second largest after Los Angeles.
“We believe victims, we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward,” the Boy Scouts of America said in a statement. The organization said it supports allowing victims to sue individual abusers even though the statute of limitation has expired, and even supports suing the organizations— but only if the organization had a hand in concealing or withholding evidence in the abuse. It also acknowledged that the litigations present it with a financial risk and said it is “working with experts and exploring all options available so we can live up to our social and moral responsibility to fairly compensate victims who suffered abuse.”