After twelve long years fighting pressure from the Catholic Church, the New York State legislature finally signed into law the Child Victims Act. The law allows child victims of abuse – both sexual and nonsexual – to sue their abusers and the institutions that enabled the abuse.
This is huge! In the past, the statute of limitations barred most survivors of abuse from ever obtaining justice.
This is what the law does:
Opens up a one-time-only, one-year window for past abuse victims to sue their abusers and the institutions that harbored them, no matter when the abuse happened or their current age;
Extends the statute of limitations to start at age 23 for criminal cases*;
Extending the time to file a civil case. A civil case must be brought before the child turns age 55**
Before this law went into effect, the statutes of limitations started when the victim turned age 18.
THE LAW IS NOT RETROACTIVE EXCEPT FOR A BRIEF ONE-YEAR PERIOD. If your case would have been time-barred under the old laws, you have a one-year window to commence a civil lawsuit. The window to file a suit is between August 14, 2019 to August 13, 2020.
An estimated 1.8 million adolescents in the US have been the victim of sexual assault and 90% of the perpetrators are known to the child, often being family members. As a result, it can take a very long time for survivors to come forward. Let’s face it, in the past, our society has shamed victims of sexual abuse and not created an environment where it would seem safe or purposeful to seek help from law enforcement or the civil system. The past year has revealed a pattern of horrific child sexual abuse crimes by prolific abusers and with schools, churches, and sports programs turning a blind eye. The passage of this law shows this is a new day and it’s time to shift the shame from victim to perpetrator.
Read more about the law on the NY Sate Senate website.
New York State Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-342-3720
**Criminal Proceedings (goal is to throw the offender in jail): In NY Felony sexual offenses against children must be commenced within five years starting at the victim’s 23rd birthday. Misdemeanor sexual offenses against children must be commenced within 2 years also now starting at the victim’s 23rd birthday. There is no statute of limitations for class A and class B felony sexual offenses in NY. Under the old law, it was based on the victim’s 18th – not 23rd — birthday.
**Civil proceedings (goal is to sue the offender for money): Under the old law, civil cases for personal injuries generally needed to be brought within 3 years from the victim’s 18th birthday. In rare cases where there’s been a criminal proceeding for the most serious sex offenses, there was no statute of limitations to bring a civil case and that remains true.
NY senator Alessandra Biaggi opened up about her own abuse to explain her affirmative vote for the CVA, describing it as a “transformational experience, because as someone who experienced abuse you are so often silenced.”