The New York Child Victims Act
By Teri Hatcher and Tom Andriola
NY Daily News
April 2, 2020
The one-year look-back window will end this summer for victims of child sexual abuse to sue their abusers. Should New York extent the deadline?
Originally appearing in the NY Daily News
As children, we were both abused by family members, people close to us, people we trusted. We both eventually spoke out as part of our own healing process and, more importantly, to protect other people, but it took us decades to disclose our abuse even to those closest to us.
The science of trauma is clear: It takes time for survivors to come forward and by the time we're ready, many of us have lost the chance to pursue justice in the courts. That's why the one year look-back window of the Child Victims Act is so important. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic just hit pause for thousands of survivors who thought they still had time to file a civil lawsuit.
Legislation to extend the window another year is under consideration. We need Albany lawmakers to pass it now.
The Child Victims Act extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse for criminal cases to 28 years old and for civil cases to 55 years old. Critically, the law includes a one-year window for time-barred survivors to file a civil lawsuit. Survivors can file a civil case against their abusers and any institutions that may have enabled the abuse, no matter how old they are or how long ago the abuse happened. However, the COVID-19 crisis has closed state courts and stalled any non-essential cases, effectively curtailing the window to seven months and slamming the doors to justice for survivors who have not yet taken action.
Look-back windows are not unique; states across the country have instituted their own versions and many are multiple years long. Longer windows mean more survivors will be able to learn about their new rights and can make the often difficult decision to file a lawsuit.
A one-year window is simply too short when we know that dealing with the shame and guilt associated with childhood sexual abuse can take decades. Making the decision to file a case is complex enough on its own without the added struggle of finding adequate legal representation, which can take even longer for survivors of family abuse because our abusers aren't necessarily well insured or wealthy like institutions.
New York lawmakers must include the extension of the Child Victims Act look-back window in any budget they pass.
Credible cases have already been filed
William A. Donohue, Ph.D.
President, Catholic League of NY
Some are pushing for an extension of the Child Victims Act, citing delays attributed toc oronavirsus. That advice is misguided.
A news story of March 25 in the Albany Times-Union says “some survivors have faced difficulty finding attorneys coming to terms with their abuse.” That is correct. Why? Because there is no money in it for lawyers who represent those victimized by an individual: the big money is gained by suing institutions, such as the Catholic Church.
The Buffalo News reported Feb. 16 that “more than 95 percent of the 350 lawsuits filed in western New York have targeted institutions such as the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, school districts and the Boy Scouts of America.”
Victims’ advocate Gary Greenberg explains that individuals “are disappointed because they thought the Child Victims Act was going to benefit them and they go to 10 lawyers and they get turned down.”
The fact of the matter is that children are more likely to be sexually abused by someone in the home who is not their biological father than they are by the clergy or teachers. The “abusive boyfriend syndrome” is real, and no one is sticking up for their victims — there’s no money in it.
Do not extend the deadline for the Child Victims Act. It will do nothing to help those who have already been rejected by lawyers, and will only continue the ideologically and economically driven agenda to “get the Church.”