Child Victims Act passes after a decade of gridlock

Photo by Mike Groll, courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo meets with abuse victims and their advocates in his Albany office on Monday prior to the passage of the Child Victims Act in the Legislature. The bill makes it easier for victims of sex abuse to seek criminal and civil justice by extending the statute of limitations on legal claims against abusers.

After a decade of fighting, supporters of the Child Victims Act saw their legislation pass both houses of the state Legislature this week and are awaiting a signature from the governor.

The newly Democratic Senate passed the bill (S.2440/A.2683) on Monday, followed soon after by the Assembly.

The passage of the monumental legislation for child sex abuse victims comes after more than 10 years of political gridlock, with strong resistance from the formerly Republican-controlled Senate. The legislation, if signed into law by the governor, will extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. It will also create a one-year “lookback” window, which would allow victims to file legal claims in instances where the statute of limitations window has expired.

For criminal prosecution, the statute of limitations shall not begin to run until the victim has turned 23 years old. For civil lawsuits, charges can be brought to court until the victim has turned 55 years old.

“We are finally telling survivors ‘the state of New York and the full force of its law is behind you, and you will not be turned away,'” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, the sponsor of the Senate bill.

The Child Victims Act, if signed by the governor, will:

  • Extend the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse offenses by five years, giving survivors until age 28 to press charges for felonies and age 25 for misdemeanors.
  • Extend the statute of limitations in civil actions arising from child sexual abuse, which currently range from one to five years at most, to allow survivors to bring suits until they reach age 55.
  • Create a one-year window during which civil cases whose statute of limitations has expired can be reviewed.
  • Permit claims against both public and private institutions by explicitly eliminating the notice of claim requirement for bringing suits against public institutions both prospectively and during the revival window.
  • Provide training for judges handling cases involving the sexual abuse of children.

The current statute of limitations for civil lawsuits allows legal actions relating to sexual abuse crimes to be brought to court within five years of the crime. The nature of the incident also affects the civil lawsuit. A person would have one year to sue an individual unless they work for an institution like a church or school. The individual would then have three years to file a lawsuit.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, have been strong and active advocates for the bill; watching it pass in the Assembly six times and always dying in the Senate.

“Promises made. Promises kept,” Hoylman said of the bill finally getting passed.

Governor Andrew Cuomo included the Child Victims Act in his 2019 “Justice Agenda” and says he intends to sign the bill.

“This issue, the Child Victims Act, we have put in the budget every year, we’ve made it a priority every year. And at the end of the day, we were foiled by the conservatives in the Senate,” Cuomo said in Albany Monday as he met with abuse victims who had been lobbying for the bill. “I don’t even believe it was the moderates in the Senate, I believe it was the conservatives in the Senate who were threatened by the Catholic Church. And this went on for years.”

With the 2019 version of the bill, Hoylman and Rosenthal drafted legislation with “even stronger pathways to justice” according Hoylman’s statement. For example, judges will now have to go through training on how to handle cases involving child sex abuse.

Hoylman promises the bill is not meant to target a specific institution, but rather allow justice for the victims. 

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins complimented Hoylman, who promises the bill will extend to both public and private institutions. 

“This is absolutely a great day for New York… We are sorry it took so long,” Stewart-Cousins said.

The bill garnered so much attention that even child actor and abuse victim Corey Feldman, of “Goonies” fame, came to Albany to rally for sexual abuse victims last year.

“When it comes to childhood abuse, there is no way to get that light back,” Feldman said last year.

Advocacy groups like Fighting for Children PAC are thankful the bill finally passed and they are hoping to get similar legislation passed throughout the United States.

Professor Marci Hamilton, CEO of Child USA, commended Governor Cuomo and his support for the the bill. Hamilton says Cuomo is “the only governor in the United States to support this legislation.”

“In the end, this is about children in the state of New York,” Hamilton said. “What we hope is we’ll find out who the hidden predators are. We’ll see the shift of the costs of the abuse to the ones who caused it. and we’re finally delivering justice to the children and the victims in New York.”

Photo by Mike Groll, courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Marci Hamilton, left, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Albany on Monday, the day the Legislature passed the Child Victims Act.