Child sex abuse survivors, regardless of age, will have one year starting this August to revive decades-old civil claims against their alleged abusers as the Child Victims Act became law in New York on Thursday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo appeared in Manhattan with lawmakers and advocates to sign the bill, which creates the so-called look-back window for revived claims and extends the regular statutes of limitations for cases involving child sex abuse.
The legislation has been proposed in Albany for more than a decade, during which time countless supporters of the bill have traveled to the state capitol to convince lawmakers of its value. Cuomo acknowledged their resilience before signing the legislation.
“You endured this pain so that others will not now feel that same pain. Your suffering will stop others from suffering,” Cuomo said. “You have put the world on notice and you exposed this silent secret scandal so that the generations that follow will be aware.”
Before the bill was signed on Thursday, both the criminal and civil statutes of limitations in cases of child sex abuse ran out when the victim turned 23 years old.
The law will now allow victims to bring civil cases against their abusers or an institution until they reach 55 years of age. Criminal charges can be brought until the victim turns 28 for felony offenses and 25 in the case of misdemeanors.
The one-year revival period will allow victims to bring civil claims against their abuser or an institution regardless of their current age. Both private and public institutions, such as schools, would be subject to litigation during that time.
The legislation was carried by Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal and State Sen. Brad Hoylman, both Democrats from Manhattan. They also carried the bill last year, but it failed to pass after Republicans blocked it from coming to the floor for a vote in the Senate. Democrats gained a majority in the chamber this year for the first time in nearly a decade.
Hoylman thanked Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, at the bill signing for making it an early priority for this year’s legislative session, which started in January.
“She not only made child sexual abuse a priority for the conference, she helped move this legislation,” Hoylman said. “Last year, she fought to have it included in the first week of the state Legislature and she was the first Senate leader to bring it to the floor for a vote.”
The bill had already passed the Democrat-led state Assembly twice, where it was originated by former Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, D-Queens. Rosenthal has carried the legislation in recent years, during which she’s been outspoken about the plight of victims seeking civil remedies from individuals and institutions for their alleged abuse.
“Time is up on the predators who for too long hid behind our weak laws, and time is up for the institutions who hid the abuse,” Rosenthal said. “New York today creates a pathway to justice and perhaps a modicum of healing for the survivors who, for years, have suffered.”
Among the advocates invited to the bill signing was Gary Greenberg, a survivor of child sex abuse and the founder of Fighting for Children PAC, an advocacy group formed to support the legislation. Greenberg was one of countless advocates who returned to Albany annually to fight for the bill before it became law on Thursday.
“Thanks to this historic legislation, we will root out systemic abuse, bring abusers to justice, and issue the most widespread set of protections for children that this state has ever seen,” Greenberg said.
Additional legislation could also be proposed in the future to build on the Child Victims Act. Hoylman has said he would consider introducing a bill to extend the one-year look-back window for another year, similar to a proposal already being considered in neighboring states such as Pennsylvania.
The current revival period won’t start until August. The legislation included a six-month gap between its signing and the window so victims could meet with attorneys and prepare their case ahead of filing.
Some advocates want lawmakers to consider additional legislation to raise the statutes of limitations even higher. Republicans have also put forth a proposal to create a public fund to compensate victims of child sex abuse whose abusers may be unavailable for litigation or not have the resources to settle a civil claim.
Connie Altamirano, another survivor of child sex abuse, supports both of those proposals. She celebrated the bill becoming law on Thursday, but urged lawmakers to consider additional legislation geared at helping victims.
“This victory, while significant for survivors and future generations of children, is only the beginning for New York,” Altamirano said. “We need more broad protections for kids, including removing the statute of limitations completely, and setting up mandatory programs for education and prevention. This battle is far from over.”