ALBANY — A one-year window that allows adults in New York state who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their abusers opens on Wednesday, August 14. Those who were sexually abused now have a one-year break in the state’s statute of limitations to pursue claims against their abusers and the institutions where the abuse took place.
The window was created by the passage of the Child Victims Act on January 28, 2019. The law adjusted the statute of limitations for pursuing criminal charges and civil suits against sexual abusers or institutions. Previously, a survivor of child sexual abuse had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim. Now, with the passage of the law, survivors have up until the age of 28 to file criminal charges, and age 55 to file a lawsuit.
The one-year window begins six months after the passage of the law. The Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, and the state’s public schools have all said they are preparing for a potentially large number of abuse survivors to file lawsuits.
In 2002, the state of California passed a similar piece of legislation, leading to more than one billion dollars being paid by the Catholic Church to survivors of child sexual abuse.
In 2016, the Archdiocese of New York created an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for survivors of child sexual abuse within the archdiocese. That program has paid $65 million to 323 survivors, who accepted the settlement with the condition they would not file an additional lawsuit. Dioceses in other states, like New Jersey, have combined to launch similar programs.
Church officials have said that they cannot predict how the window will affect local dioceses.
“We don’t know exactly what to expect when the window opens,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York to the Associated Press.
“We certainly anticipate that there will be lawsuits filed against the archdiocese, as there will be against many other institutions and public entities as well.”
The Catholic Church had raised qualified opposition to earlier versions of the Child Victims Act, as the legislation did not provide the same protections for child abuse victims in public insitutions, including schools, as it did for private institutions.
The final version that was signed into law eliminated these differences, and allows for suits to be filed by survivors of abuse by public school teachers or employees.
In January, Director of the New York Catholic Conference, Dennis Poust, told CNA that the conference supported the changes and had not opposed the final version of the act.
“For years, we have advocated against treating abuse survivors differently depending on where they were abused,” he said.
“Previous versions of the bill sought to shield public institutions, which would have treated abuse survivors differently depending on where they suffered their abuse. Thankfully, the bill’s sponsors amended this, and the conference dropped any opposition to its passage,” Poust said.
At the time the bill was passed, the bishops of New York issued a joint statement in response to the bill.
“We pray that the passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors by offering them a path of recourse and reconciliation,” the bishops wrote.
“The legislation now recognizes that child sexual abuse is an evil not just limited to one institution, but a tragic societal ill that must be addressed in every place where it exists.”