Monday, January 28th, saw the passing of the Child Victims Act in New York. This new law will see stronger protection for all victims of child abuse, extending the state’s statute of limitations beyond the age of 23. The act is a major victory for survivors of abuse, allowing their sexual assault cases to include a much larger scope and span of time than before.
What the New Child Victims Act Entails
The Child Victims Act accomplishes three significant goals. It allows anyone who survived sexual abuse as a child to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser, as well as the institution which harbored that abuser, until victims turn 55 years of age.
The law also allows victims a one-time, single-year period to seek action against their abuser, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. Finally, the law extends the state’s statute of limitations for child abuse victims, allowing law enforcement to file felony criminal charges against abusers until victims turn 28, and allowing victims to seek charges for misdemeanors up until the age of 25.
Addition of Public Institutions
The previous incarnation of the bill saw Catholic leaders expressing concern over the fact that the one-year period only applied to private institutions like Catholic churches. The current law has added public institutions such as governments and schools to those which can be charged with harboring abusers.
In order to sue a public organization, a victim must first submit a notice of their claim within 90 days of the date the abuse occurred. No such notice of claim is required for a victim wishing to sue a private organization.
Who Opposed the Act, and Why
These organizations included the Boy Scouts of America, the Orthodox Jewish community, insurance companies, private schools, and the Roman Catholic Church. All previously dealt with child abuse victims privately, which prevented lawmakers from seeking justice.
The main concern of these organizations that lobbied against the bill was its one-year “look-back” period. The potential payout in damages to victims, they claimed, could be large enough to make go bankrupt like those in Hawaii, California, and other states with the same inclusion in their respective child abuse laws.
One of the most vocal of these opposers was the New York Catholic Conference, that had paid Albany lobbyists to represent its interests to the tune of almost $2 million.
Despite the opposition, the Child Victims Act was approved by the Senate and the Assembly, and overwhelmingly so; every Democrat and Republican senator voted for it to pass, which it did in the Assembly 130 to 3.
What the Act Means for Victims
Since the passing of the Child Victims Act, many victims have made clear why this is such an important and historical event. In the past, victims were expected to endure the many and varied effects of the abuse they suffered as children, all the while not being able to name their abusers. Nor were they able to name the institutions which harbored or relocated them to other institutions where they could continue their abuse.
Many victims would keep their abuse a secret, simply because of the fear that they wouldn’t be believed. Most often, this was due to the position of trust that abusers were in—one that victims feared would get them in trouble for their disclosure. As a result, the average age for disclosure of sexual abuse is beyond 50 years of age.
What It Means for the Public
The Child Victims Act, in addition to helping victims of sexual abuse to sue their abusers, will also help the public to further understand the issue. For example, now that the Act has been passed, the patterns of sexual abuse and the events leading up to the abuse will be more exposed. This will surely also expose just how prevalent child sexual abuse is.
For other states, the Child Victims Act sets a precedent; not only does it make a statement that child sexual abuse will no longer be tolerated, but it also provides a clear model for other states to consult when improving their own childhood sexual abuse legislation.
The Work Ahead
Now that the Child Victims Act is law, there is much work to be done, particularly to notify abuse survivors in the state of New York about what their rights now are. With the short one-year window starting its countdown, and so many victims to be notified, time is of the essence.
Filing a Notice of Claim
In order to proceed with a lawsuit against a public organization, it is necessary to file a notice of claim within 90 days of the date of the abuse. Information must be in writing and then sworn to before a notary public, either by or on behalf of the victim.
The information required to be included in the notice needs to be detailed. It must not only state the nature of the claim but also include a precise and detailed account of when and where the abuse occurred and how the claim came to be made. It also requires the listing of a dollar amount of damages sustained as the result of the abuse.
Once completed, the notice of claim must be served to municipal government, by either personal or registered/certified mail delivery. A lawsuit must then be instituted within a year and 90 days from the date the abuse occurred.
Private Compensation Is No Longer Acceptable
Private organizations like church dioceses currently have compensation programs across New York, from which settlements to victims are offered. Administrators of five of these programs have said more than 1,000 people have accepted compensation. Yet there is a dark side: In agreeing to receive compensation for their damages, victims must sign away their right to sue.
This is no longer an acceptable means of dealing with sexual abuse cases in the state of New York, and it never should have been. The time has finally come for abusers and the organizations who chose to downplay or ignore their abuse to pay for the damage they’ve caused.
Know Your Rights
If someone you love or you were the victim of sexual abuse in New York, your first line of defense is to know your rights. Although the law may appear to be straightforward, there’s no doubt that some abusers and their organizations will attempt to circumvent it.
The best way to ensure you get the compensation you deserve is to first read the details of the law and the rights contained therein, and then find representation that will fight aggressively to defend those rights.
Sexual abuse is a heinous crime that exploits the innocence of children. Those children grew to be adults whose every relationship and life experience was tainted by the abuse they endured. Now the state of New York has taken a momentous step to begin the healing with the passage of the Child Victims Act.
The sexual assault lawyers at Saunders & Walker P.A. offer victims a highly skilled team of experienced professionals who understand the law and know how to defend your rights. With three decades of nationwide experience, we work diligently to ensure that no abuser’s wealth is enough to prevent them from being brought to justice. Contact Joe for your free evaluation today.