In the past, perpetrators of child sexual abuse may have got away with their crimes due to immunity from liability after a certain amount of time had passed.
Civil actions against perpetrators were also greatly restricted by the law.
However, that all changed in New York in 2019 with the passing of the Child Victim’s Act.
The law was enacted specifically to hold child abusers accountable for their actions and to improve the framework by which criminal prosecutions and civil actions involving sex offenses against young people can proceed.
Let’s take a look at these important changes to the law and see how they may affect you if you’re a historical victim of child abuse in New York.
What is the Child Victims Act and what are the main benefits?
There are several provisions under the Child Victims Act that make it easier for child victims to hold their abusers accountable – both in the criminal justice courts and the civil courts.
In the criminal justice courts
Previously, according to New York Penal Law 130, the statute of limitations for most sex crimes began when a child reached the age of 18 and lasted for five years (excluding “class B” felonies, which had no statute of limitations).
Under the new law, the five-year period starts at the age of 23. This means that there is a lower chance of child sexual offenders getting away with felonies due to the reluctance of an 18-23-year-old victim to come forward. Victims can now file a criminal lawsuit until the age of 28.
The same applies to misdemeanor offenses, which now have a statute of limitations of two years that begins on the victim’s twenty-third birthday.
In the civil courts
According to the new law, a civil action must be filed before a child victim turns 55 years of age.
This allows a historical victim of sexual abuse to come forward after decades rather than years to seek justice against their perpetrators and the institutions that harbored them.
There have been high-profile cases where victims have not been able to speak about their abuse for many years after it has happened. The new law recognizes this and makes provisions for filing a civil suit for decades-old sex abuse.
The Child Victims Act also makes a provision for victims who were already barred from taking civil action due to the statute of limitations. It provides a one-year “look-back” period whereby a civil case may be brought against an abuser regardless of when it occurred.
Additionally, the law has been changed to:
- Remove the requirement for the child victim’s counsel to file a notice of claim where certain public entities are the respondents (e.g., municipalities, the state of New York and school districts)
- Provide for extra training for judges to properly handle these lawsuits
- Require the courts to amend procedures in their review and management of these cases
Child Victims Act crimes and violations of the Penal Law
New York Penal Law 130 lays out a variety of sex crimes that are affected by the Child Victims Act.
These crimes include both misdemeanors and felonies.
Whether an accused person has committed a class “A” misdemeanor such as “forcible touching” or a class “B” felony such as first-degree rape, it is now easier for victims in New York to hold their abusers to count.
Additionally, judges have more powers to pass down harsher sentences on the perpetrators, including imprisonment for up to 25 years for those convicted of the most serious crimes.
Child Victims Act and abuser accountability
Victims of child abuse can never be compensated adequately for the crimes committed against them.
However, the process by which their abusers are held to account for their past actions can bring a degree of closure to many.
Seeing their abusers face imprisonment and having a lifelong criminal record (with registration on the sex offender’s register) shows victims that they are not forgotten by society and that they have a voice.
Also, witnessing the institutions that harbored their actions be brought to book (in many cases they turned a blind eye or failed to follow up with victim complaints) can act as some small measure of justice for the pain and suffering that victims of child abuse have been through.
It is now easier for past victims to file both criminal and civil lawsuits under the Child Victims Act.
This means that they can hold both the individuals and their institutions accountable for criminal actions and receiving compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering, as well as material damages in terms of medical costs and lost earnings.
Such actions have the added advantage of deterring would-be predators from believing that they will have immunity from the law if they do commit sex crimes.
So, many past victims can be comforted by the fact that, by coming forward, they are protecting children in the future from heinous crimes.
Is there still opposition to the New York Child Victims Act?
The Catholic Church in New York and the insurance companies voiced stern opposition to the Child Victims Act for over a decade, fearing a torrent of lawsuits coming their way.
There was also political opposition initially from the Republican-controlled Senate, despite bills repeatedly passing in the Democrat-led Assembly.
Catholic church opposition
When the Democrats gained control of the Senate in November 2018, the bill became an almost certainty to pass and the state Catholic Conference dropped its opposition to the Act.
The Church did, however, request changes to the wording so that public (as well as private) institutions could be sued during the one-year “look-back period”.
The bill then passed unanimously in the Senate in January 2019 and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law at a ceremony in Manhattan.
The time is right for victims in New York to come forward
There has never been a better time to right past wrongs for New York residents.
The changes outlined above are historic and provide an opportunity for many without a voice previously to speak out.
To ensure that the perpetrators of child sexual abuse can no longer escape what they have done, no matter what position of authority they previously held or hold now, speak to your Child Victims Act Lawyer in New York.