An Opportunity to Be Heard
Following over a decade of partisan dissent, in February of 2019, Governor Cuomo signed the New York Child Victims Act into law, extending the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse to file criminal and civil claims against their abusers.
Under this new law, beginning on August 14, 2019, survivors may now bring criminal claims against their abusers until they attain the age of 28, and may file a civil lawsuit until they attain the age of 55. If the statute of limitations expired prior to the passing of this law, a survivor now initially had a 1-year window in which to file their claim. The “look-back period” was further extended by an additional year, which expired in 2021. Those whose statute of limitations had not expired, are still allowed the full filing time period. Similar statutes have passed or are under consideration in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states.
As a result, hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of priests, ministers, and other members of the clergy, as well as teachers scout leaders, coaches, and others, have been able to tell their stories. The truth needs to be told. Survivors deserve justice. Children should not be made to suffer by members of our society that we often place the most trust in.
Survivors of Sexual Abuse
The trauma of childhood sexual abuse doesn’t end when you grow up. Children who were survivors of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, a teacher, or camp counselor, often face lifelong challenges with guilt, depression, isolation, and anxiety. They are often at higher-than-normal risk for substance abuse, alcoholism, suicide, PTSD and other mental health conditions. Abuse is often kept hidden and victims are reluctant or unable to come forward for months or years after the events.
Child sexual abuse does not always start with an “attack.” Sexual abuse often begins much earlier, when a predator begins to “groom” their victim to erode innate defenses. This is particularly important when the abuser is in a position of trust or authority – such as a clergy member or teacher.
Abuse can include:
- Sexual harassment or threats
- Unwanted touching while clothed or unclothed
- Lewd acts, comments, or gestures
- Sharing of pornographic images or videos
- Providing alcohol or intoxicants to encourage sexual behavior or reduce defenses
- Indecent exposure
- Sexual assaults
- Statutory rape
Lifting the Statute of Limitations for Child Sexual and Clergy Abuse
Recent reporting has shown that incidences of clergy abuse is much more widespread than previously known and have affected many thousands of children and adolescents in New York and nationwide. When dealing with clergy abuse, a religious institution or organization may “hush” up the scandal, silencing the victims. Other organizations such as schools, sports clubs and community groups like the Boy Scouts have behaved in a similar way, by hiding the abuse.
In many cases, survivors of child sexual abuse will not report the events for months or even years or decades due to the nature of the crimes. Survivors may live in denial or face situations where abuse is suppressed purposefully or due to repressed memories.
The statute of limitations on reporting crimes related to child sexual abuse or molestation vary from state to state and but traditional has been as short as only a few years after the event has occurred. In some cases, the survivors are still children or only a few months or years into adulthood when the statute of limitations has expired.
Some states, like New York, have taken concrete action to expand the statute of limitations pertaining to clergy and other child sexual abuse, increasing the age to file criminal complaints or civil lawsuits, or removing the age limits altogether. Like the previous regulations, the statutory changes vary by state but in New York, victims of sexual abuse now have until the age of 28 to file criminal charges and until the age of 55 to file civil lawsuits.
In 2019, dioceses in New York, New Jersey, and other states published lists of clergy members who have been accused of sexually abusing children. Other institutions and organizations are following suit including churches, the Boy Scouts of America and school groups.
Financial Compensation for Sexual Abuse Survivors
As governmental awareness of the breadth of clergy and other childhood sexual abuses continues to increase, the need for justice also increases. In many states, including New York, survivors of child sexual abuse now have broader rights to pursue justice against their abuser.
Though nothing can change the past, survivors may be entitled to financial compensation for counseling, medical costs, and pain and suffering. Each case is unique and should be evaluated by a lawyer who is experienced in New York child sexual and clergy abuse lawsuits.