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New York State Legislature Passes the Child Victims Act

As of January 29, 2019, the New York State Legislature passed the Child Victims Act, which heralds in unprecedented protections for child sex abuse survivors and opens the doors of New York State courts to survivors previously precluded from commencing criminal or civil actions against their abusers due to the state’s previously controversial statutes of limitations.

The bill extends the age at which the criminal statute of limitations begins to run from 18 to 23; and extends the statutes of limitations for civil actions, which currently begins to run at 18, to include all survivors up to the age of 55.

Furthermore, the bill waives the requirement for survivors to file a notice of claim against a public institution before commencing a civil cause of action. Previously, survivors had only ninety (90) days to put a public institution on notice of their intention to file suit or forever be barred from court.

Most notably, the bill provides for a one year revival or “look-back” window for all child sex abuse claims that would otherwise be time-barred – thereby allowing any survivor, regardless of the age of their claim, to seek justice in New York State courts.

The bill also includes provisions to expedite the adjudication of revived child sex abuse cases; establishes special trial preference for revived cases; requires the promulgation of rules for the timely adjudication of revived cases; and requires the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to provide training to judges concerning crimes involving child sex abuse.

Many other states have similarly reformed their laws in recent years as the true effects and impacts of child sexual abuse have come into the spotlight, as there is no longer any question that young people suffer sexual abuse on a startling scale.

Surveys from the United States Justice Department, which examined 4,023 adolescents ages 12 to 17 across racial and ethnic groups, determined that 8.1% of these youths suffered a sexual assault.[1] Similar research performed with data on all survivors of sexual assault known to law enforcement between 1991 and 1996, showed that on whole juveniles represent the vast majority of survivors suffering forcible fondling (84%), forcible sodomy (79%) and sexual assault with an object (75%).[2]

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.[3] One in seven survivors of a reported sexual assault is under the age of six (6), and the single age with greatest proportion of sexual assault survivors among all survivors reported to law enforcement is fourteen (14).[4]

Juveniles, often the most vulnerable and alienated members of society, have been and will continue to be the principal targets of sexual violence.

Nevertheless, only about 38% of child survivors ever disclose the fact that they have been sexually abused.[5] Some never disclose it,[6] further allowing offenders to escape justice and continue to commit crimes. According to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, a typical sex offender will molest an average of 117 children in his or her lifetime.[7]

Time and again, we find that the institutions trusted to protect and nurture children have failed to safeguard them from sexual assault and abuse – or through their representatives, directly perpetrated these crimes.

In some cases, institutions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, have established compensation funds to remove the procedural hurdles of litigation and offer survivor some relief. Compensation programs administered by mediators Kenneth Feinburg and Camille Biros were created in over half of the dioceses in New York State. The Archdiocese of New York, under Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has recently appointed a former United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District as Special Counsel and Independent Reviewer, to perform an internal review of the church’s policies, procedure and protocols in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse.[8]

The efforts of the Catholic Church in New York, however, fall short of the sweeping protections and access to the courts that the Child Victims Act will accomplish in the coming year and beyond.

Contact our attorneys

For decades, Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C. has fought for the rights of all survivors of sexual abuse, and stands ready to continue its support of survivors and provide them with access to justice and acknowledgment.

If you or a loved one has suffered abuse recently or well into the past, contact an attorney to learn what legal options are available and how to preserve your rights.

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[1] Dean G. Kilpatrick, Benjamin E. Saunders, and Daniel W. Smith. Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications. NIJ Research in Brief. (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2003), 1.

[2] Howard N. Snyder, Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics, NIBRS Statistical Report, (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000), 2.

[3] Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics and risk factors. Child Abuse & Neglect 14, 19-28. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(90)90077-7

[4] Howard N. Snyder, Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics, NIBRS Statistical Report, (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000), 2.

[5] London, K., Bruck, M., Ceci, S., & Shuman, D., Disclosure of child sexual abuse: What does the research tell us about the ways that children tell? Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11(1), 2003. 194-226; Ullman, S. E., Relationship to perpetrator, disclosure, social reactions, and PTSD symptoms in child sexual abuse survivors. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 16(1), 2007. 19-36.

[6] Broman-Fulks, J. J., Ruggiero, K. J., Hanson, R. F., Smith, D. W., Resnick, H. S., Kilpatrick, D. G., & Saunders, B. E. (2007). Sexual assault disclosure in relation to adolescent mental health: Results from the National Survey of Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36, 260 – 266; Smith, D. W., Letourneau, E. J., Saunders, B. E., Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., & Best, C. L., Delay in disclosure of childhood rape: Results from a national survey. Child Abuse & Neglect, 2000. 24, 273 – 287.

[7] Allen, Ernest E., Keeping Children Safe: Rhetoric and Reality. Juvenile Justice Journal. Vol. V (1), May 1998.

[8] Statement of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Press Release (September 20, 2018), http://cardinaldolan.org/index.php/new-initiative-announced-in-response-to-church-sexual-abuse-crisis/