Hundreds of child sexual abuse survivors across New York State are expected to file civil lawsuits in the coming months, now that the one-year look-back window created by the recently passed Child Victims Act is officially open.
“For 50 years, I totally set it aside,” Charlie d’Estries recently told The New York Times. “The big piece is about being able to get it out. Let’s tell the story because it’s worth telling.”
The 64-year-old Buffalo man claims to have had repeated “sexual encounters” with a Catholic priest while growing up on Long Island. For years, d’Estries was unable to acknowledge that he was actually abused. Now he has, d’Estries wants justice.
The New York Child Victims Act’s year-long window is finally offering him that opportunity. It opens today.
“The significance of it is a switch in the balance of power,” said Marci A. Hamilton, the chief executive of Child U.S.A. “There was a severe imbalance of power that led to their abuse in the first place. The culture shut them out of the legal system until now. For them, this is validation.”
The look-back window will allow d’Estries and other child abuse survivors to sue those responsible, even though the statute of limitations on their claims expired long ago.
The New York Child Victims Act also allows prosecutors to pursue felony charges against child predators until a victim turns 28, up from 23. And it enables survivors to file civil lawsuits against their abusers, as well as an any individual or entity that enabled the abuse, until their 55th birthday.
With the one-year window officially open, powerful institutions throughout New York are bracing for a wave of lawsuits. According to some legal observers, new cases could be filed against every Roman Catholic diocese in the state. The Boy Scouts are another likely target, as are certain elite private schools, youth sports programs, and even prominent hospitals.
“The Child Victim’s Act is a very powerful tool for child protection and it effectively catapults New York from the back of the pack to the front of the pack regarding child protection,” one plaintiffs’ attorney told ABC News.
New York is now one of about a dozen states that have extended the statute of limitations for child abuse survivors. A similar look-back window in California allowed more than 1,000 plaintiffs to file new clergy sexual abuse lawsuits and ultimately led the Roman Catholic Diocese San Diego to seek bankruptcy protection.
This year, 40 additional states have considered legislation that would give adult survivors of child sexual abuse more time to seek legal recourse. Eighteen states have already enacted such laws, including New Jersey, which will soon open a two-year look-back window for reviving old claims.