The legislation significantly extends the time a child abuse victim can pursue a criminal or civil claim. These changes will help many who have suffered the trauma of sexual abuse as a child the ability to seek justice in both criminal and civil courts for the abhorrent crimes committed against them.
Sadly in many cases of sexual abuse, children know their abusers. Very often abusers are people of trust and are family members, friends or individuals who have regular contact with a child within a public or private institution. It may take years for a victim of abuse to come to terms with what happened and to determine a course of action that is right for their situation. By changing the statute of limitations and allowing more time to report the crime to police or file a civil claim, the Child Victims Act acknowledges the sensitive nature that surround so many of these cases and gives them more recourse within the law as adults.
Depending on the crime, there are different statutes of limitations but under current law, the clock on the statute of limitations for many child sex abuse crimes begins when the victim turns 18. Under the Child Victims Act, the statute of limitations period will begin at age 23 as opposed to 18, thus extending the period of time a victim has to bring a criminal action. The Child Victims Act also significantly changes the time victims have to file a civil claim. If the violation occurred before the victim was 18, victims have until the age of 55 to file a civil claim. Previously, victims typically only had 1 year to file a civil claim after turning 18.
In addition to the permanent changes, the act creates a temporary, one-year look-back window to allow victims of any age to bring civil lawsuits against individuals or public or private institutions. The look-back window will begin six months after the bill is signed.
The Child Victims Act follows a national trend of relaxing civil and criminal statutes of limitations. Eight states have no statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes. Seven other states have in recent years passed some type of temporary, look-back window to allow victims to come forward so they have their day in court. It should be noted that for certain felony sex offenses, there is no criminal statute of limitations.
Victims and child advocates are hailing the passage of this act. Some who have lived through child abuse say crimes of this nature are difficult for young children to process and it often takes years, even after reaching adulthood, to decide whether they wish to press criminal charges or sue in civil courts. In addition to the emotional and psychological scars of abuse, there are often social connections that people have to consider in coming forward to make their claims public. Providing more time for people to report abuse or to file a civil claim will help many in making these complex decisions. During the discussions last week in Albany, some victims came forward to share how this bill's passage would personally make a difference in their lives and, by naming more perpetrators in court, could spare others from suffering emotional and physical abuse under the same abuser. I hope that with this act's passage, this will be the case and will give people more avenues to pursue justice. If you have any questions or comments, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.