Compromise on a proposal to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases seems unlikely for now, according to the sponsors of two dueling bills in the New York state Senate.
Sens. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, and Catharine Young, a Republican from western New York, have two different ideas on how to address cases of child sex abuse. The former is the sponsor of the Child Victims Act; the latter sponsors the Child Victims Fund. Both pieces of legislative aim to help victims of child sex abuse.
The bills’ sponsors both think they have crafted the ideal piece of legislation to bring justice for those victims, but neither has been able to bring it to the floor.
Republicans currently hold a slim majority in the Senate, which means they control which bills are brought up for a vote. The entirety of the Republican conference has so far been unconvinced to do so.
The difference between both bills lies in the litigatory and compensatory methods of addressing cases of child sex abuse.
The Child Victims Act would raise the criminal statute of limitations for those cases to age 28. It would also raise the civil statute of limitations to age 50, but also includes a one-year period for older victims to pursue civil claims if the law is passed. The current statute of limitations runs out at age 23 for both civil and criminal actions.
Young’s bill would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations altogether and create a special hearing process for victims seeking monetary relief and public acknowledgement of past abuses. A chief administrator appointed by the state comptroller would decide how the hearing process works and how funds are distributed.
Young’s bill would take $300 million from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s asset forfeiture funds to compensate victims after a hearing. The state would siphon a small amount from Vance’s funds to replenish the Child Victims Fund each year. Vance has opposed that idea.
“Thanks to our financial crime investigations we have contributed more than $2 billion to New York state since 2010,” said Danny Frost, Vance’s director of communications. “If these senators want to bail out child predators and their enablers, perhaps they could use some of that money instead.”
Young said in an interview with the New York Law Journal that using money from Vance’s office is a solution to help all victims seeking compensation, not just those accusing institutions of sexual abuse.
“The Child Victims Fund is much better because it provides compensation to every victim of child sexual abuse,” Young said. “The Child Victims Act would only help a small number of victims.”
Hoylman’s bill would benefit victims suing institutions that either covered up or ignored sexual abuse, but would not necessarily provide relief for a victim who’s accused an individual not affiliated with an institution, Young said.
“The institutional abuse, while it grabs a lot of headlines is really a small percentage of the child sex abuse that actually occurs,” Young said. “Many of the abusers don’t have any monetary benefits, so the victims would get nothing.”
Hoylman has argued that it’s not about the monetary benefits—it’s about giving victims their day in court and having a public record of the alleged abuse. He said proponents of his bill have said they want to be able to use the court system to address their alleged abuse.
“It’s disappointing to hear that the senator thinks this is only about money,” Hoylman said. “If she would speak to more survivors, I think she’d hear that financial settlements are not their primary concern. Their primary concern is justice and being able to confront their abuser in a court of law, in a judicial setting that allows the normal operation in discovery, which would be foreclosed by the Republican fund concept.”
Young has spoken to victims of child sex abuse, including Connie Altamirano. Altamirano has been coming to the capital for years to advocate for legislation that would provide relief for victims of child sex abuse. She was allegedly sexually abused by her step-grandfather when she was a child.
Young’s bill may provide more relief for Altamirano than Hoylman’s bill because her abuser is no longer in the country. It would allow her to publicly name her abuser through the hearing process and possibly receive compensation from the fund.
“We want justice, we want peace,” Altamirano said. “It’s a validation of our life, of us living, of feeling whole again or that our lives do matter.”
Kat Sullivan, another advocate, said Young’s bill does not go far enough to provide justice to victims of child sex abuse. Sullivan was allegedly raped and abused by a teacher at a private school in Troy. She said Young’s bill does not provide the due process victims seek.
“Cathy Young’s bill is not a true attempt at passing a law because there’s actually no burden of proof criteria,” Sullivan said. “She’s talking about creating a new method for victims seeking justice.”
There are at least two ideas both advocates agree on. The first is that the criminal statute of limitations should be dropped, as it is in Young’s bill. Hoylman said he’s open to discussing that.
“I agree in principle that it could be higher and it’s something that we’ll be examining in January,” Hoylman said.
Advocates also want to see Young and Hoylman sit down and come up with a bill that both sides can support. There are parts of each bill that are favorable to victims, Altamirano said. If the bill’s sponsors could combine them and address their differences, victims could finally be given an opportunity for relief after years of lobbying, she said.
Hoylman’s bill has long been opposed by institutions like the Catholic Church, which spent close to $20,000 during the final two months of the session on lobbying and related expenses, according to filings with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York called the one-year window to pursue civil claims in Hoylman’s bill “toxic” after meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year.
Young said her bill was not introduced to help those institutions avoid payment to victims in cases of child sex abuse. She said, instead, it was born to help victims whose abusers are not able to provide compensation after a civil trial. Relief would be distributed based on claims against individuals, not institutions.
Sullivan said that process sends a message to institutions that the state will foot the bill if an institution ignores or covers up cases of child sex abuse.
“It’s about course-correcting,” Sullivan said. “There needs to be repercussions for this type of behavior.”
Hoylman said he hopes the discussion will change when lawmakers return in January, at which time Democrats could be in control of the Senate for the first time in nearly a decade. “The solution is our judicial system. We don’t have to do legislative somersaults to accommodate schools and churches and yeshivas that have harbored criminals and child sexual abusers,” Hoylman said. “That’s what our court system is for and I hope she sees the light eventually and supports the Child Victims Act under a Democratic Senate.”