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EDITORIAL: Sex abuse victims finally get their day in court

EDITORIAL: Sex abuse victims finally get their day in court

One-year window opens for civil claims
EDITORIAL: Sex abuse victims finally get their day in court
Photographer: ShutterStock

It shouldn’t have come to this.

Victims of sexual abuse shouldn’t have had to wait this long to get their day in court.

They shouldn’t have had to wait for a special “window” to bring forth their legal claims against their abusers, to get some kind of reparations for the horrors they suffered as children.

For years, New York had among the most restrictive statutes of limitations on sex crimes in the country, preventing many child victims from bringing their claims to criminal or civil court.

State legislators should be ashamed for letting these cases linger this long before passing legislation allowing victims to seek justice. The abusers and the organizations that protected and enabled them should be  guilt-ridden, repentant and afraid.

Some victims have waited years, decades even, for the opportunity to be heard in court. Not to get money. Not to get revenge. Just to be heard.

But now the wait is finally over.

When state lawmakers earlier this year finally passed the Child Victims Act and extended the statute of limitations on sex crimes, they also gave victims of crimes committed against them long ago, cases that don’t fit within the new time limits, the chance to bring their cases forward in civil court.

Today begins a one-time, one-year window in which those victims in older cases can take their abusers and their organizations to state Supreme Court.

They won’t be able to get justice from the criminal justice system. But any kind of punishment for the abusers and their enablers has to be better than none.

The state court system expects to hear thousands of cases, and has been preparing for the onslaught of litigation by developing procedures to ensure consistent outcomes, setting rules to expedite claims, training personnel and assigning specific judges to adjudicate these cases so that victims won’t have to wait any longer than they have to.

Victims under the one-year window shouldn’t expect miracles. Such crimes get more difficult to prove as time marches on. Witnesses forget. Physical evidence and written records, if there were any in the first place, disappear or degrade. People closest to the situations become difficult to locate or die.

And whatever financial compensation victims receive won’t even come close to what they’re entitled to. Cases will be bargained to avoid trials. Settlements will be offered and accepted. No one will be satisfied with the outcome. 

It’s not the ideal approach to addressing sex crimes. A better system should have been put in place many years ago.  

But this is what we have.

And victims should not miss the opportunity to seek whatever remedies the justice system will allow.

The window is open at last.

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