MIDDLETOWN, NY — New York State has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to getting justice for child victims of sexual abuse. The law now requires that if a child …
MIDDLETOWN, NY — New York State has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to getting justice for child victims of sexual abuse. The law now requires that if a child victim of sexual abuse wants to seek justice through a lawsuit, the victim must take legal action by the time she or he is 23 years old. The Child Victims Act would change the statute of limitations to age 50 for civil cases and age 28 for criminal cases. The law would also create a one-year window in which any lawsuit from the past could be brought regardless of the statute of limitations.
This one-year window is the reason that some Republicans in the state Senate have opposed the legislation. Last year, New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan refused to allow the legislation to go to the floor for a vote, while the Assembly passed the measure by a vote of 139 to seven.
Sen. John Bonancic has also spoken against the legislation because of the window, and on January 29, advocates from New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators gathered outside his Middletown office to call for him and his Republican colleagues in the Senate to support the legislation.
Bonacic released a statement which said, “In 2006, the legislature tried to address some of the concerns raised by passing legislation for specific crimes of a sexual nature to have no criminal statute of limitations… What is difficult to deal with is the one-year window, which allows any victim of alleged sexual abuse to bring a civil complaint. We believe that would create an evidentiary nightmare for the integrity of the judicial system, allowing someone to seek restitution 30, 40, 50 years later. As people age, their memories slip, their senses slip, and that is why we have statutes of limitations. For example, the majority of criminal statutes of limitation in New York are six years or less.”
Catherine Robb, the co-founder of the group, was sexually assaulted as a child. She said she was not able to speak publicly about the incident until she was 46 years of age and was thus shut out of the justice system when she was finally in a position to seek justice.
According to the group Prevent Child Abuse New York, that is common for child victims. The group’s website (tinyurl.com/y7sl3sjd) says, “By requiring victims to come forward by their 23rd birthday, our law has the effect of protecting offenders. Most victims are not able to disclose their abuse to authorities until they are well into adulthood and are emotionally and financially free. Between 60% and 80% of adults who were sexually abused as children don’t disclose until they are adults.”
The Child Victims Act, however, has some other powerful opponents including the Boy Scouts of America, the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish groups, who are concerned that the window element would create a wave of lawsuits that could drive some organizations into bankruptcy. Supporters, however, say that hasn’t happened in other states that have adopted similar legislation.
This year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has inserted the Child Victims Act into his proposed budget, which means that the Senate will likely have to take a position on it one way or another, and supporters say it will be hard for senators to continue to say “no” to taking a step to bring more justice for victims of child sexual abuse. The budget is due to be adopted by April 1.