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Advocates Seek to Change Child Sexual Abuse Laws to Better Support and Protect Victims and Ensure Perpetrators Are Not Able to Hide Behind Current Statutes
Child sexual abuse is among the most damaging, life-changing crimes generally impacting victims throughout their lifetimes and causing significant family damage. Consistently, one of the most similar aspects to these horrible acts is that the victims are not able to bring attention to the abuse until many years later and, by then, any chance of criminal or civil prosecution has been lost due to current and archaic State Laws limiting the time to bring legal action Unfortunately, New York State laws have not been on the side of the victims when it comes to the amount of time they can seek such a prosecution. Instead, the laws have protected not only the abusers, but their cohorts, as a result of the short time period these victims have to prosecute or litigate them.
As of May 2016, a bill is in the New York State Assembly and another bill has been offered in the New York State senate to create a Child Victims Act to amend the Statute of Limitations or the time in which to sue for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses. Beginning May 2016, a significant push began taking place to get a bill through the Assembly and Senate. The Assembly majority bill has passed; however, a senate majority sponsor and committee meetings for a joint bill to present the bill to the governor are still required. The bill is being advocated and requires a committee to decide on a joint bill.
Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (Democrat-Queens, New York) brought the proposed bill to the State Assembly. It is hoped that this bill will get to the Senate and then to the Governor to sign into law, as it provided for the extension of the time period a sex crime victim may bring a lawsuit against the offending party. The bill, as presently drafted, allows for a one-year window to bring legal action for any claim no matter how old the claim may be. The Assembly bill allows only claims against private entities. The senate bill allows for all claims including those against government entities. It remains to be seen what the joint bill, when hopefully passed, allows.
The lawyers at Parker Waichman LLP continue to offer free case evaluations to victims of child sexual abuse in New York State. Our legal team understands the pain and sensitivity of these issues, and we pledge to assist you in an atmosphere that will make you feel comfortable and safe as we explore your legal options to seek the compensation you deserve and punish those who are guilty of wrongdoing against you or your loved one.
2016 Proposed New York Expanded Child Victims Act
Assemblywoman Markey, a long-time advocate who has worked to ensure child sexual abusers are properly punished and victims protected, was joined by Senator Brad Hoylman (Democrat- Manhattan) and other advocates and supporters of the Child Victims Act (CVA) at a press conference in Albany, New York as part of a two-day rally (May 3-4, 2016) to unveil new support for the expanded, proposed Child Victims Act (CVA). The New York Daily News points out that the program was held in conjunction with the Child Victims Act Advocacy Day. Senator Hoylman sponsored the bill in the Senate.
SOL.com reports that the proposed Child Victims Act of New York will:
- Eliminate criminal AND civil statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse. This is intended to prevent child sexual abuse predators the protection they currently have from facing their crimes by simply biding their time.
- Provide a one-time, one-year window to enable victims whose sexual abuse allegations were time-barred by today's limitations-described by SOL.com as "arbitrary"-to bring their claim. This is meant to offer an opportunity for victims to see justice is served after having been unfairly or criminally denied their day in court.
- Save New York State extensive and significant financial and social costs. Research reveals that child sexual abuse costs New York State taxpayers over $1 billion annually.
"In so many different ways, today we put a spotlight on New York State's poor record of dealing with victims of childhood sexual abuse and how this archaic approach protects pedophiles who continue to abuse new generations of children," said Assemblywoman Markey. "The present statute of limitations is too short. We need to change the law to better provide justice for victims of sexual assault, particularly for older victims, and to expose perpetrators who have been hidden by sports and youth groups, schools, and religious organizations," she added.
The Child Victims Act (A1771A/S6367) seeks full elimination of the "statute of limitations in criminal and civil actions and revives civil actions for certain sex offenses committed against a child less than eighteen years of age."
The two-day rally seeks to call upon legislators for reform of the current statute of limitation (SOL). Today's SOL does not allow most victims of these sex crimes from receiving justice, while it also encourages organizations and institutions to protect perpetrators, enabling them to continue molesting generation upon generation of children, noted The Daily News. Advocates hope to see the Child Victims Act fully remove the statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes.
New York is among the very worst states in America for the way in which state laws treat victims of childhood sexual abuse, thereby essentially victimizing them again. Advocates and survivors of abuse who attended the events in Albany seek to change this current deplorable situation. Adult survivors of child sexual abuse spoke about the impact of the molestation on their lives and included "a world champion ice-skater, a teenage hockey player, a budding hip-hop artist, private and parochial school students," and some who were abused by "family members and neighbors," The Daily News wrote. All of these survivors share that their "pleas for help were ignored, and their abusers have been protected by the existing statute of limitations." The two-day event included a one-day focus on the Academy Award-winning movie "Spotlight," about the Boston priest scandal in which church hierarchy protected a notorious pedophile who was able to continue his molestation.
Advocates of the New York statute call the handling of child sexual abuse "a national shame" pointing to how victims of child sexual abuse do not receive justice, noting that New York is behind Georgia, Massachusetts, Florida, and Utah, which have all passed bills in recent years to increase the length of time victims have to bring their cases to court. Those responsible for changing laws in other states-many of which include adult survivors of child sexual abuse-are now demanding that New York follow their lead.
Florida has no statute of limitation in civil lawsuits or criminal charges when sexual abuse occurs when a victim is under the age of 16, according to the state's 2010 reforms. Under the law in New York State, sexual abuse victims only have until they are 23 years of age to bring either criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit against alleged molesters. According to activists, wrote The Daily News, New York State has one of the shortest windows nationwide and that time frame is simply not sufficient to allow traumatized victims to come forward. Advocates note that a 2010 National Institutes of Health study found that a massive 80 percent of individuals abused as children wait until adulthood to discuss their molestation.
In New York, The Child Victims Act has failed to be enacted into law four times since 2006 after it first passed the Assembly, but was blocked in the state Senate. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a victim is able to file criminal charges up to 27 years after his or her 16th birthday, according to The Daily News. "Why lock out people who haven't had a chance to recover from their injury brought on them by adults?" Georgia Representative Jason Spencer, who sponsored a bill to reform the laws in his state, he told The Daily News. "You are protecting pedophiles when you do this. This is not justice."
"We have a responsibility to put these laws in place," said Lauren Book, a candidate for the Florida State Senate and a victim of sex abuse by her nanny, Waldina Flores. Book, who is also the daughter of a prominent lobbyist, helped lead the effort to add 32 more years to Florida's statute of limitations. "We still have a long way to go," she told The Daily News. In all, 37 states have eliminated statute of limitations in cases of sex abuse of children. Other states have increased the age by which victims may pursue a case; other states have implemented "window provisions." A window provision is a period of time during which people-regardless of their age-may file a civil suit against their alleged abusers.
Advocates for the Child Victims Act hope that the bill will pass in 2016. The bill now has 60 co-sponsors in the Assembly.
Assemblywoman Markey pointed out that, "New York is among the very worst states in America for how it treats victims of childhood sexual abuse…. This is the year to change that deplorable situation." Utah Representative Ken Ivory, who led reforms in his state and whose wife is an adult survivor of child sex abuse, told The Daily News that, "Now that we know better, we should do better…. Hopefully New York will do better by our children, as well."
Proposed 2016 Child Victims Act Bill Detractors
A number of entities oppose the window provision and/or elimination of the statute of limitations outright. These include the Catholic Church, the insurance lobby, and other religious institutions. Their argument is that they are unable to afford to defend lawsuits brought against them that are old and challenging to prosecute.
"We still oppose the concept of a retroactive window for old abuse cases because of the difficulty in defending such old cases," Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The Daily News. "Statute of limitations exist in the law to try to protect due process and serve justice. Over time, witnesses die, evidence is lost and memories fade," he said. Poust added that they support a rival bill in New York to raise the current age of statute of limitations by five years, to 28 years of age. According to The Daily News, those who have seen a change in their states' laws say the Catholic Church's opposition has no base.
The state Catholic Conference is backing the alternative bill that is being pushed by Assemblyman Michael Cusick (Democrat-Staten Island) seeks to increase the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases by five years, to age 28. The alternate bill does not include the one-year window that is outlined in Assemblywoman Markey's proposal.
A Florida attorney pointed out to The Daily News that "None of that happened. No one's closing their doors. No one's being sued out of existence," adding that, "It's not going to happen in New York either because it's a stupid excuse." In the eight states that have allowed a window provision, to date, a total of 2,921 people have filed a civil lawsuit that enables them to pursue old cases. None of the claims have been proven false, according to research by an advocacy group run by Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. "We have not seen a flood of claims. False claims don't happen," Hamilton told The Daily News. "I think that the sky did not fall in a single state and I think that those are fantasy objections."
AG Eric Schneiderman Urges Legislative Leaders to Extend or Eliminate Criminal and Civil SOLs in Child Sexual Abuse ClaimsState Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a call to action in a letter he issued to legislative leaders urging Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (Republican-Suffolk County) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Democrat-Bronx) to rapidly allow a floor vote on legislation to extend or eliminate the time limit abuse victims have to bring criminal and civil cases.
AG Schneiderman wrote that, "The Legislature has discussed and debated this issue for years, and now it is time to act," adding that, "Prosecutors must be empowered to deliver justice in these cases…. And by denying child sexual abuse victims their day in court, we are denying them their right to equal justice under the law."
The Daily News noted that the Republican-led Senate never passed such legislation and the Democratic-controlled Assembly last acted in 2008. "This is unconscionable, and must be addressed during this year's legislative session," AG Schneiderman wrote.
Under current law, an adult who was sexually abused as a child has until he or she reaches the age of 23 to bring a lawsuit. And prosecutors are also barred from bringing a criminal case "for many of these heinous crimes," the attorney general wrote.
The Daily News notes that the statute of limitations in New York State only applies to those allegations that are made against private entities, religious institutions, and nonprofit organizations. Those making accusations against municipal institutions have just 90 days after an alleged incident to file notices of a claim. Some feel this is not fair to the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, in his letter, AG Schneiderman wrote that, as a state senator he voted for a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for first-degree rape as well as other high-level felony sex offenses and that he also co-sponsored legislation in the Senate to further extend the statutes of limitations for other sex offenses against a child. "No one is more vulnerable than children who have been the victims of sexual abuse," wrote the AG.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they are 18 years old. "But for many victims, the full memory of childhood abuse is often suppressed for decades-or victims are too overcome by fear and shame to report their abusers until they find the strength and support they need in adulthood," the AG wrote. "We must not allow our justice system to further victimize our fellow New Yorkers." New York is one of four states, including Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, that denies victims a day in court and "allows those who prey on children to walk away unpunished," he added.
Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse
According to Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) studies, a disconcerting one in five children is sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. Many sexual predators are known as so-called "lifelong predators" who have abused upwards of 100 children; however, only a mere 10 percent of this abuse is reported to authorities. Tragically, victims of these crimes are often unable to discuss these crimes for many years via predator intimidation or serious post-traumatic stress disorder responses, or both. According to SOL.com, this means that thousands of pedophiles (sex abusers of children) continue to live their lives, often living and working with or near children in the state of New York, such as in schools, churches, synagogues, youth groups, and especially in families.
What SOL.com describes as the "silent epidemic" is only increased by those individuals who have criminally covered up for pedophiles and are also protected by the state's statute. In fact, special grand juries in Suffolk and Westchester counties have uncovered planned criminal actions by institutions that have used deception and intimidate victims from seeking legal recourse until expiration of the current statute of limitations (SOL).
SOL.com points out that the one proven way in which to discover abusers and the individuals who cover up abusers and their behaviors is, wrote the Suffolk County Special Grand Jury, "...the NYS legislature should enact a statute similar to the state of California that revives civil actions for damages for a period of one year…" In fact, SOL.com notes that, when California enacted its law, the state unearthed more than 300 undetected predators. Delaware, a significantly smaller state, discovered more than 60 predators. Bearing in mind that predators typically have multiple victims, SOL.com points out that thousands of children have been protected in these two pioneering states, alone. Of note, states that neighbor New York have significantly stronger laws.
2009 New York Child Sex Abuse Laws Minimally Extend Statute of Limitations
In 2009, the New York State Legislature had begun considering a law to temporarily lift the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits involving allegations involving the sexual abuse of children. The statute currently stands at five years after the victim's 18th birthday, or to the age of 23. Adult victims of child sexual abuse are able to hold many of the individuals and institutions involved in these horrific incidents accountable for the misery they have caused, but only within the very short time frame currently allowed. However, it is important to understand that there was no retroactive effect to this extension and, as a result, anyone over the age of 23 was left without any recourse.
Abuse Victims Lawsuits Against Clergy and Other Organizations
Allegations of sexual abuse in houses of worship nationwide have become an increasingly disturbing occurrence. With the news of more abuse by religious leaders making headlines, more victims are finding the support and understanding they need to come forward with their stories of abuse.
A prior abuse case in Boston revealed that the Catholic Church went to great lengths to protect a priest who was repeatedly accused of molesting children over a period of 30 years. The list of Roman Catholic officials who allegedly remained silent-despite evidence that a Boston-area priest was molesting boys-grew to include one cardinal, five bishops, and several parish clergy, according to legal proceedings and public statements. Unfortunately, religious officials having hidden sexual abuse allegations for years and decades is not a rare occurrence and enables the abuse of countless children and the ongoing protection of the abusers and their cohorts well past the crimes' statutes of limitations.
It has been more than a decade since a rash of allegations against Catholic priests surfaced. The church has spent millions of dollars, if not more, to defend itself against charges it knew of allegations of sexual abuse being committed by its clergy. Many former priests have been sentenced to prison terms after being convicted of their crimes, and more than 10 years later, priests and church officials continue to defend themselves against allegations of sexual abuse or conspiring to ignore these accusations. Hundreds, potentially thousands, of children were sexually abused by their priests or other church officials and-as is often a tactic seen in cases of sexual abuse-were often intimidated into not telling their parents or civil authorities of crimes committed against them.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish population has also been the focus of a growing number of allegations. For example, previous allegations include that a rabbi at a New York religious school in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community, sexually abused students. Members of the community have long been encouraged by their leaders to take allegations of sexual misconduct to rabbis before making reports to secular authorities. According to at least one alleged victim's family, victims are rarely believed and abusers are not punished.
Some 64 students allege abuse by at least 22 faculty members at the exclusive Horace Mann School in the Bronx. On Long Island, foster father, Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu, was charged with the abuse of seven boys. Sexual abuse allegations have also been made against the Boy Scouts of America; the Jehovah's Witnesses; and Penn State University and former coach, Jerry Sandusky, to name just a few.