(January 28, 2019) Victims of child sex abuse received a legal reprieve from New York lawmakers this week. On Monday the state government in Albany voted to allow people a longer grace period in which to file their claims of being sexually abused as children. The Child Victims Act gives victims of child sex abuse until age 55 to bring a civil lawsuit, up from the current age of 23. The bill also offers other legal changes that help extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse.*
The new law comes after more than 15 years of political in-fighting, with most of the opposition coming from Republican senators. Gov. Cuomo vowed to sign the bill, saying, “It’s taken us a number of years to get here, but we got here.”
Related: Abuse by Clergy Lawsuit
The bill was driven, in part, by four state representatives who recently revealed their own childhood experiences of having been sexually abused by trusted elders. The New York Daily News reported that during the debate on the House floor, “[F]our female lawmakers – new Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx), and Assembly members Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan), Catalina Cruz (D-Queens), and Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn) – recounted their own experiences of being sexually abused as kids.”
The Least We can do
Ms. Biaggi said she had remained silent for 25 years, which no doubt helped her to understand why it would take a person that long or longer to come to terms with abuse and share it with the world. She said her abuse was, “something that I thought I would take to my grave.”
She also questioned: “Why on earth would anybody be opposed to this bill unless they have something to hide. This is truly the least that we can do.”
Ms. Niou shook and cried as she recounted her abuse at age 13 by a teacher.
“I hope that people realize that this is not an attack on any institution, not attack on anybody else,” Ms. Nious said. “This is to protect victims. It’s to protect the children and it’s to help people feel a little whole again.”
Ms. Cruz said she was abused by a family member. She thanked bill sponsors past and present for “never giving up in getting us justice.”
Ms. Bichotte recounted a story about being abused at age 10 by a pastor. She said, “This bill is a must because it speaks to all the victims who were sexually abused as a child. “The passing of this bill means a victory to them, a victory for me.”
The Child Victims Act Politics
Senate Republicans and some Assembly Democrats had previously blocked the bill. It passed the Assembly for the third straight year this year, but with Democrats now in charge of the Senate, it cleared the upper house this time around.
The bill’s original sponsor was former Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a Queens Democrat. Ms. Markey took grief for years from the Church and even from some fellow Assembly Democrats for her aggressive advocacy of the legislation. The Catholic Church opposed it for years, as did Orthodox Jewish groups, the Boy Scouts of America, and insurance companies.
Democrats push Child Victims Act Through
Democrats decidedly pushed The Child Victims Act through. After winning Senate control in the November elections, they prioritized passing it.
New Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said at a rally with victims and victims’ advocates before the vote: “We say to the victims that we hear you, we are responding in the most responsible way, and we are really, really sorry it took so long. We really are.”
New York Daily News Crusade
Governor Cuomo and advocates praised the New York Daily News for making the bill a crusade the past three years.
“The twelve-year battle for the Child Victims Act has been arduous and sometimes provoked despair and disillusionment in the hearts of survivors and advocates,” said Stephen Jimenez, who was sexually abused at his Catholic school in Brooklyn. “But, at the end of the day, the glaring light of truth and justice has triumphed.”
Mr. Jimenez, a Catholic and co-founder of New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, said the bill’s passage “means an end to shame, silence and invisibility in the face of institutional cover-up.”
What The Child Victims Act Means
*Sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), The Child Victims Act gives victims of child sex abuse until their 55th birthday to bring a civil lawsuit, up from the current age of 23. The new bill also gives survivors until their 28th birthday to seek criminal felony charges and their 25th birthday to seek a misdemeanor case.
The bill also creates a one-year window to revive old cases time-barred under current law. It will also treat public and private institutions the same when it comes to child sex abuse. Under current law, someone abused in a public institution like a school can only sue if they file a notice of claim within 90 days of the attack.
130-3 Vote for New Bill
The bill flew through the Senate with minimal debate and passed by a unanimous vote. It passed the Assembly 130-3.
The state Catholic Conference dropped its years-long long opposition to the bill for reasons given by its spokesman Dennis Poust: “We did not oppose the final version of the Child Victims Act precisely because it treats all survivors equally, including those abused in public schools. We hope this legislation gives all survivors the opportunity to be heard and compensated, wherever they were abused.”
Statute of Limitations Fights Continue
The Daily News reported that, “Some survivors, including Gary Greenberg, who created a political action committee to help flip the Senate so the Child Victims Act could pass, praised the new law even while saying they will push for future changes, including completely eliminating the criminal and civil statute of limitations on all child sex abuse cases.”
That fight will be ongoing in New York state, as it is ongoing in Pennsylvania and other states. It was a grand jury report from Pennsylvania last summer which first focused the nation’s attention on the undeniable problem of an ongoing epidemic of child sex abuse by Catholic priests and other trusted clergy.