New York state lawmakers have left a lot of important matters until the last minute before they end this year’s legislative session later this week.
If they do anything, they need to pass the Child Victims Act and give victims of child sex crimes more time to get the justice they deserve.
Child sex abusers have long been protected in New York by a relentlessly early statute of limitations that often does not give a traumatized victim enough time as an adult to remember and report the abuse.
Under current law, there is a five-year statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges in certain sex-related felony crimes involving minors.
Right now, the clock on that five years starts when the victim turns 18. The new law would keep the same five-year statute of limitations, but would start the clock when the victim turns 23 years old. That means victims could be 28 years old and still have charges brought. The clock on the 2-year statute of limitations on certain misdemeanor sex crimes would also start at age 23, giving victims another five years —until they reach age 25 — to bring charges.
Also under the new legislation, victims would have until age 50 to commence civil action against their attackers.
And the bill contains a provision for a one-year window that will allow older victims to come forward within that time frame.
All of our local members of the Assembly (Santabarbara, Woerner, Walsh and Steck) voted in favor of the bill, which passed 139-7 on June 7.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week put his considerable political weight behind a version of the bill that essentially mirrors the terms of the Assembly version.
The holdup is in the state Senate, where Republican lawmakers are being pressured by opposition groups, including the Catholic Conference. Apparently, opponents really don’t like the provision that establishes a one-year window for old cases. They feel that some people could be falsely accused, with no evidence or witnesses available after so much time to refute the alleged victims’ claims.
That’s certainly a legitimate concern. The longer a case goes, the more difficult it is to prove, one way or the other.
In an attempt to alleviate concerns about someone being railroaded, one state senator has proposed that a commission be set up to review the validity of those older claims before allowing charges to be brought.
While it might sway some Republican senators to support the legislation, it seems like an unnecessary and cumbersome step designed to shield the criminals.
Regardless of whether there’s a commission or not, each of these cases is going to be brought forward by a prosecutors, who will have to be confident they have enough evidence to make the case. And each case will be heard by judges, who can decide for themselves whether a case has merit. Why create an extra layer?
Victims of child abuse need justice.
The Child Victims Act would help give them that justice.
It needs to be passed this week.