On February 14, 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed The Child Victims Act into law, giving new hope to victims of childhood sexual abuse in New York. This landmark new law will allow those who were sexually abused as minors to pursue justice and seek compensation from their abusers and the institutions that harbored or protected the abusers – in some cases even decades after the abuse was suffered.
At Powers & Santola, LLP, we have always fought for victims of all ages. If you believe that The Child Victims Act affects the rights of you or a loved one to seek just compensation, contact us today to discuss your case. Our initial consultations are strictly confidential and offered free of charge.
What Is The Child Victims Act?
On January 24, 2019, a group of 38 New York lawmakers joined together to sponsor The Child Victims Act, or Senate Bill 2440. Here are three primary features of the law:
- It lengthens the amount of time for prosecuting serious childhood sexual abuse defendants. Previously, a person could not be charged with such crimes after the child turned age 23. Under the new law, this age limit is increased to 28 years of age, buying prosecutors another five years to investigate and pursue these cases.
- It allows the abuse victims more time to pursue civil damages from their abusers and the companies, churches, schools and other institutions that protected abusers or helped to conceal their conduct. The new law gives victims until their 55th birthday to bring such lawsuits.
- Finally, the law provides a temporary one-year window of opportunity for some victims to seek legal compensation from their abusers even if under the old law the statute of limitations had expired. This one-year “look-back” period starts six months from the date the law was signed on February 14, 2019.
How Can The Child Victims Act Help Victims of Childhood Sex Abuse?
One of the biggest hurdles with criminal prosecution of child sex crimes is that the crimes are done in secret. The victims are often too young and too scared to speak out. So, evidence can be difficult to obtain. Often, decades later and after years of therapy, counseling and hard work, a person musters the courage and emotional fortitude to come forward and speak out about what happened to them as a child. Finding additional evidence in cases with delayed disclosures is difficult, that is why you need people with the proper training and experience working for you.
Likewise, in civil actions, victims have struggled to bring their claims. A child abuse victim may spend a lifetime dealing with the fallout from abuse. It can impact work, relationships, affect mental and physical health and even lead to self-harm and suicide. The abusers, meanwhile, escape accountability due to the running of the statute of limitations.
The Child Victims Act helps by making sure abusers are never truly free from being held responsible for their actions. They cannot rely on the child’s youthful fear or shame to get away with their crimes and the damage they have caused the child to suffer. Instead, the law extends the time limit long enough for most people to grow up, get the help they need and, ultimately, pursue their claims. It also removes an enormous barrier to holding major institutions accountable, including churches and academic institutions.
As National Public Radio (NPR) reports, California, Minnesota, Delaware and Hawaii have all created “look-back” periods as well, allowing longer statutes of limitations for filing civil lawsuits against institutions that harbored and concealed sex abusers for decades. This no doubt will lead to large amounts of payouts from organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, Roman Catholic Church and other institutions that have been rocked in recent years by allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups.
States are making these changes in recognition that the harm which victims suffer never really ends. A childhood sexual abuse victim is left with permanent emotional and physical scars. So, abusers should not be allowed to escape the consequences of their actions.
Holding Institutions Accountable for Sexual Abuse of Children
Major insurance companies lobbied against The Child Victims Act in New York and have challenged legislation in other states. Likewise, powerful religious groups and other organizations have fought to keep states from giving victims a voice. The reason is clear: They face exposure to significant liability. As NPR reports, when California passed similar legislation, it led to the Catholic Church paying out more than $1 billion to victims and their families.
The experienced and dedicated personal injury attorneys of Powers & Santola, LLP, see no reason to shelter individuals or institutions from accountability for childhood sexual abuse. If an organization spent decades covering up abuse of children, that organization deserves to be held fully accountable. More importantly, we believe that the laws in New York and throughout the country should focus on protecting victims – not their abusers.
Under the new law in New York, someone who sexually abuses a minor child will have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Additionally, those who gave cover and protection to abusers will be unable to avoid responsibility for their actions.
Types of Child Sex Abuse Cases
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimated that 93 percent of sexual abuse victims under the age of 18 know their abuser. Often, abusers use their position of authority or trust and take advantage of the victim’s vulnerability. The abuse may take place in settings such as:
- Religious institutions
- Academic institutions (public, private or charter schools)
- Day care/child care
- Youth organizations
- School or club sports.
Sadly, many organizations and institutions over the years have tried to cover up the sexual abuse of children. The Child Victims Act will play a major role in exposing that illegal activity and allow victims to hold those organizations and institutions accountable.
Our Attorneys Protect the Rights of Child Sex Abuse Victims in New York
If you suffered sexual abuse as a child in New York, the attorneys of Powers & Santola, LLP, want to help. We have decades of experience with these types of cases. Although we cannot undo the harm that you have suffered, we want to make a meaningful difference for you as you move forward in life.
The recent enactment of The Child Victims Act may have a positive impact on your ability to seek just compensation for the harm that you have suffered. Contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation about your case through our offices in Albany, Syracuse and Rochester. We can help you to understand your rights and the legal options available to you.