(June 10, 2019) A New York state law change this year helps sex abuse victims seek justice that may otherwise have been lost to them. The Child Victims Act had languished for years at the NY state Capitol before finally becoming law on Jan. 28, 2019. The new law gives victims of child sexual abuse a new opportunity to seek justice against their tormentor(s).
Governor Cuomo signs Bill S2440 into Law
The bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law will give some long-suffering victims a belated victory which they had awaited for years. The governor announced in Manhattan at a special signing ceremony for the bill: “After a 13-year ordeal and after decades of personal pain for so many, I hope you can find a slight sense of peace and a slight sense of vindication that you did not endure this pain without reason.”
What does the new law do?
The 2019 Child Victims Act changes the state’s strict statute of limitations on sexual crimes against children. It opens up a one-year window to revive past claims of any age.
The new law:
- extends New York’s statute of limitations to allow for criminal charges against child sex abusers until their victims turn 28 for felony cases, up from the current 23.
- allows victims to seek civil action against their abusers and institutions that enabled them until they turn 55.
- opens up a one-year, one-time-only period to allow all victims to seek civil action, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
Why the Law Change Now?
The new law came into being after citizens and lawmakers in several states responded to the shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report last summer which revealed that more than 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 school-aged children over several decades. The Pennsylvania report opened the eyes of the country to the ongoing problem of child sex abuse. The report showed that the abuse was aided and abetted by churches that hid the monstrous crimes while often coddling the criminals and shielding them from prosecution.
Amid the Penn scandal and others involving the church, a full-throated outcry from advocates and some lawmakers said victims should have further recourse against those who either committed the crimes or failed to face the problem.
Mr. Cuomo noted that Pope Francis said the church should not protect abusive priests.
“The priests should be punished,” said Mr. Cuomo at the signing. “Pope Francis said these people should have access to the courts for legal resolution. (I) think the bishops have worked to protect the church. [T]hey compounded the problem by covering it up and not taking responsibility.”
Opposition to the New Law
In the state Capitol at Albany, the law faced fierce opposition from the church as well as from insurance companies fearing a flood of Priest abuse lawsuits.
Republicans controlled the NY state Senate for the past decade and blocked the measure, though it repeatedly passed the Democrat-led Assembly. Everything changed in November 2018 when Democrats won control of the Senate.
The state Catholic Conference dropped its opposition at the end of 2018 after it got the NY Legislature to back language stating that public institutions can also be sued during the one-year look-back period.
“We therefore remove our previous opposition and pray that survivors find the healing they so desperately deserve,” the Catholic Conference tweeted, though critics said church officials acquiesced only after they knew the new Democrat control of NY government meant the law could no longer be stopped from passage.
The Senate unanimously approved the bill on Jan. 28, and the Assembly passed it 142-3.
New NY Law helps Sex abuse Victims
The most serious felony sexual crimes against children already had no statute of limitations prior to the new law, though mid- and lower-level felonies had a five-year statute of limitations, which kicks in when the victim turns 18.
The statute of limitations will now be based on a person’s age, not the length of time since the allegations.
Clergy Abuse Lawsuits
With the look-back period now opened up, more lawyers and victims are planning to come forward with clergy abuse lawsuits.
The look-back period opens in summer 2019, and remains open for a year, beginning Aug. 14.