There’s no joy in this.
Solace, maybe. Hope, perhaps. Relief. Vindication.
The positive news out of Albany on Monday was that state lawmakers had passed the Child Victims Act.
The sad fact of the matter, though, is that it took New York’s Legislature more than a dozen years to give the victims of child sex abuse more time to bring their cases forward against their abusers and to seek justice and compensation from our criminal and civil justice systems.
A dozen years, during which the state chose to protect the rapists and sex abusers – along with the powerful organizations that enabled and shielded them – over the people they victimized, often young, vulnerable children.
The lawmakers who opposed the legislation gave more weight to the objections of large, powerful, wealthy organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts than they did to the victims. For that, state lawmakers bear shame and owe the victims a profound apology.
But on Monday, the legislation (A2683/S2440) finally passed, 63-0 in the Senate and 130-3 in the Assembly.
The state can now move ahead with giving victims the justice they deserve.
Those who work with sex abuse victims know that victims can take many years, even decades, to reveal suppressed memories and to come to terms with their abuse to the point where they feel confident enough to report it. Shame, pain and fear of reprisal keep these secrets hidden. And often by the time victims do come forward, the statute of limitations on bringing criminal and civil cases against their abusers has long past. In the meantime, their abusers have been free to victimize other children.
The new law is a vast improvement over existing law.
On the civil side, victims of sexual abuse as children will be able to file lawsuits against their abusers and their institutions until they are 55 years old, up from age 23.
On the criminal side, victims will have five more years, up until their 28th birthday, to file felony criminal charges and up until their 25th birthday to file misdemeanor charges.
The law also contains an important one-year-only “look-back window,” which will allow victims previously shut out from seeking justice under the old statute of limitations to bring their cases forward. This takes effect in six months.
The law will apply to private organizations and public organizations. Cases that were revived by the extended statute of limitations will be given preference.
It took hard work and perseverance of many victims and many other good people over many years to get this job done.
It’s horrible that such a law is even needed. And it took far too long to pass.
But in all, Monday was a very good day for the victims of child abuse in their pursuit of justice long overdue.