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What Is The Child Victims Act?

Posted on July 5, 2019 by Kelly Wolford

Child sexual abuse has long-ranging impacts on victims. The experience can threaten their sense of self-worth, their relationships with others, their physical and mental health, and the circumstances under which they can succeed in life. Unfortunately, children and adults, who suffered sexual abuse when they were younger, are often too traumatized to speak about what happened or report it to the authorities. As a result, perpetrators may never be brought to justice. Meanwhile, child abuse survivors fail to get the compensation they deserve to cover the treatment expenses, lost earnings, and other costs they incur. A new bill aims at changing this scenario. The Child Victims Act extends the amount of time for filing victim claims and allows adults to now hold people and institutions responsible for the abuse they suffered when they were young. 

New York Child Victims Act

New York State issued a news release in January of 2019 announcing that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo had signed legislation designed to protect victims of child abuse while holding those accused of this terrible act accountable both through civil lawsuits and in the criminal courts. The Child Victims Act is a key component of the Governor’s 2019 Justice Agenda, which aims at closing loopholes in the existing statutes. The bill focuses on three main areas: 

  • It extends the amount of time for pressing criminal child sex abuse charges. Under the New York Penal Code, child sexual abuse is a felony crime. Previously, many child sexual abuse victims had up until the age of 23 to have charges filed against the abuser.  However, the Child Victims Act provides an additional five years to file charges in those cases where there is a statute of limitations. 
  • It extends the amount of time for filing civil lawsuits over child sexual abuse. Survivors of child sexual abuse can hold the perpetrator accountable through a civil claim for damages. Under the previous law, the statute of limitations was between one to five years after turning 18. Under the Child Victims Act, this time period is extended significantly. Survivors now have the right to initiate a claim up until they reach the age of 55. The new law also provides a one-year ‘look back’ period. This allows survivors to file a lawsuit regarding offenses that may have occurred many years ago during a one year period which begins six months after the law went into effect. 
  • It allows child sex abuse survivors to hold institutions accountable. Situations involving child sex abuse often occur in institutions such as churches, schools, summer camps, or during other organized activities. Previously, it was easy for the institution to deny liability. This provided a level of protection for perpetrators and little motivation for institutions to prevent abuse from happening. Under the new law, it is easier to hold these institutions liable for failing to take the actions needed to protect the children in their care.  

Child Victims Law In New York

Changes in child victims laws in New York can only help those who speak up about what happened to them. According to Psychology Today, the following are among the common reasons why survivors stay silent: 

  • Shame and self blame: Child sexual abuse survivors often harbor deep shame and may have been led to believe that they were somehow to blame for what happened. 
  • Fear and intimidation: Survivors may fear for their safety or be too intimidated to come forward. They may also have doubts about whether anyone will believe them. 
  • Repressed memories: Child sexual abuse is such a traumatic event that victims often repress the memory. These often come to the surface years later once the person is in a safe and stable relationship. 

By extending the time frames for filing both criminal and civil charges, the new Child Victims law in New York takes into account the above factors. It also achieves two important goals: 

  • Adults who suffer from painful memories and negative life impacts can finally get the satisfaction of seeing the perpetrator behind bars. 
  • It increases the odds that survivors will get the compensation they deserve for their pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and other costs through a civil claim. 

Learn More About The New York Child Victims Act Today

If you are a victim of child sexual abuse, we urge you to reach out to Powers & Santola, LLP.  With attorneys experienced in cases involving child sexual abuse, we are uniquely positioned to act as a strong legal advocate for you. The one year look-back period under the Child Victims Act provides an opportunity to hold perpetrators accountable, but you need to act fast. Call or contact our New York child abuse attorneys online to request a confidential consultation in our Albany, Rochester, or Syracuse office today.