Pictured Above: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act in the newsroom of the Daily News. Former Queens Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, who was a champion of the bill after her son told her as an adult that he had been abused as a child by a priest, is holding the signed bill.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act on Thursday, Feb. 14, giving victims of childhood sexual abuse a second chance at justice.
“We are here today because survivors who endured unimaginable pain came forward with great courage and sacrificed their own privacy to make change for others,” said Governor Cuomo as he signed the bill. “This bill brings justice to people who were abused, and rights the wrongs that went unacknowledged and unpunished for too long. By signing this bill, we are saying nobody is above the law, that the cloak of authority is not impenetrable, and that if you violate the law, we will find out and you will be punished and justice will be done.”
Statutes of limitations on bringing accusations against alleged child molesters typically allow victims a limited amount of time to come forward about what happened to them — at a time in many victims’ lives when they are frightened and don’t know where they can turn for help.
The new law extends the statutes of limitations for criminal cases, allowing them to be commenced until the victim turns age 28 for felonies and age 23 for misdemeanors. The statute of limitations had previously not allowed prosecution after victims turned 23 years old.
The law also pushes back the statute of limitations to permit civil actions to be brought until the victim’s 55th birthday.
Perhaps most significantly, the law also creates a one-year window for adult survivors to commence civil cases that had been barred because the statute of limitations had expired. It also removes the requirement that a notice of claim be filed within 90 days of the incident against public entities like public schools or government agencies.
The legislation requires judges to undergo additional training for these cases and give the cases revived under the one-year window a trial preference so they are more rapidly moved forward in court.
The bill was sponsored in the State Assembly by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and in the State Senate by Senator Brad Holyman. South Fork State Assemblyman Fred Thiele has been a vocal advocate for its passage.
“The Assembly has fought hard for this measure, and with new leadership in the Senate, the legislation is finally set to become law,” said Mr. Thiele in an early February announcement that the Assembly had passed the bill.
The State Senate had long blocked the Child Victims Act, under heavy lobbying from Catholic bishops, and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan has called the proposed one-year window “toxic” after a meeting with Governor Cuomo last year.
“Childhood sexual abuse is an indescribably traumatizing experience that can take a lifetime to come to terms with,” said Mr. Thiele. “In many cases, it can take many years for a survivor to be ready to confront their abuser. While we cannot erase what happened, we can give power to victims and help them move forward with their lives without letting the perpetrators of these unthinkable crimes off the hook.”
Mr. Thiele added that many criminals go uncharged, as the majority of perpetrators are known to the child, in a position of power and may even reside in the home, and that many victims of sexual abuse carry their trauma with them for the rest of their lives and are more likely to struggle with drug abuse, experience post-traumatic stress disorder and contend with severe depression.
“Abuse of any kind against a child is the most shameful, unforgivable crime,” said Assemblyman Thiele. “It should be up to the victims who were wrongfully robbed of their innocence to decide how and when to tell their stories and pursue justice against their abusers. With the Child Victims Act set to become law, we’re finally righting a terrible wrong.”