New York Governor Signs Law Extending Legal Deadlines for Child Sexual Abuse Survivors

Published on February 15, 2019 by Laurie Villanueva

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed the Child Victims Act into law, ending a 12-year fight to give sexual abuse survivors more time to take legal action against their abusers, as well as the institutions that enabled their abuse.

“We are Sorry that Justice Took So Long.”

“This is society’s way of saying we are sorry,” Cuomo told a group of survivors during yesterday’s signing ceremony in Manhattan.

“We are sorry for what happened to you. We are sorry that it took us so long to acknowledge what happened to you. We are sorry that justice took so long. We are sorry to the other victims who, in the interim, were also violated because society was slow in acting.”

The bill signing took place in the offices of the New York Daily News, a tabloid newspaper that has advocated for passage of the Child Victims Act for years.

“And at a time when some think that journalism has been reduced to no more than 280 characters in a tweet, the Daily News wrote 252 articles on the Child Victims Act,” the Governor noted. Since 2009, the Daily News wrote 223 articles, 29 editorials, 975,000 characters on one issue.”

What the New York Child Victims Act Does

The Child Victims Act changes New York law in three key ways:

  • Extends New York’s statute of limitations to allow for criminal charges against sexual abusers of children until their victims turn 28 for felony cases, up from the current 23.
  • Allows survivors to file child sexual abuse lawsuits against perpetrators and institutions until they turn 55.
  • Opens up one one-year, one-time-only window to allow all survivors to file civil lawsuits, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

Why Did it Take So Long to Pass the Child Victims Act in New York?

The New York State Assembly has voted to pass the Child Victims Act every year since 2006.

But because of fierce opposition from the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions that feared a wave of child sexual abuse lawsuits, the Republican-controlled New York State Senate repeatedly blocked the bill’s progress.

The dynamics changed once Democrats won control of the Senate last November. Ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and other denominations also helped increase support for the bill.

The New York Catholic Conference finally dropped its opposition to the Child Victims Act earlier this year, after lawmakers altered language to ensure survivors could sue both public and private institutions during the one-year look-back period.

With that roadblock gone, the New York Child Victims Act unanimously passed the State Senate on January 28th. The bill was approved by the New York State Assembly just a few hours later, by a vote of 14-to-3.

Over 500 Credibly Accused Catholic Priests Served in NY Dioceses

Six of New York’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses have officially identified more than 200 priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse:

  • Buffalo Diocese, 80 identified
  • Syracuse Diocese, 57 identified
  • Albany Diocese, 46 identified
  • Ogdensburg Diocese, 30 identified
  • Rochester Diocese, 23 identified
  • Brooklyn Diocese: 13 identified

In 2004, the Archdiocese of New York acknowledged that 45 of its priests had sexually abused children, while the Rockville Centre Diocese said 66 priests were accused. But neither identified abusive priests by name.

The Archdiocese of New York is the second largest Roman Catholic Dioceses in the United States. It’s also considered one of the most secretive in regard to clergy sexual abuse allegations.

BishopAccountability.org has posted a database identifying nearly 500 accused Roman Catholic priests who served in dioceses throughout New York State. However, advocates believe the true number could be much higher, given the Church’s well-documented efforts to silence victims and protect predatory clergy.

NY Dioceses Brace for Onslaught of Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

Now that the Child Victims Act is officially the law of the state, Catholic dioceses throughout New York could face an onslaught of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits over the next year.

That’s exactly what happened when similar one-year look-back window opened in California in 2003. Catholic Dioceses throughout the state ultimately payed over $1 billion to settle the resulting 850 clergy sexual abuse claims.

“I’m sure we’re going to see the same thing in New York,” Terry McKiernan, co-founder of BishopAccountability.org, told The Buffalo News. “Lawyers are going to be filing lots and lots of lawsuits and they’re going to be moving very quickly because they have only a year.”

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