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With a new law going into effect this week that extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in New Jersey, the state court system is prepared for hundreds of complaints to be filed in the coming days and weeks, which were previously time-barred.
In May 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation which extends the New Jersey statute of limitations for child sex abuse until the victim is 55 years old, or within seven years after they first realized the abuse caused them harm. The change also created a two year “window” for individuals with previously barred claims to file a lawsuit in the state against individuals or organizations responsible for the conduct.
The law went into effect on Sunday, and nearly 50 cases were filed shortly after midnight. That number is expected to grow rapidly over the next week, with many of the claims being pursued against the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, which was once headquartered there.
The New Jersey law is similar to one which went into effect in August in New York, which has resulted in about several thousand claims over sexual assault that occurred decades ago, where individuals were previously unable to pursue claims. A similar law also goes into effect on New Year’s Day in California.
There are some concerns over whether the New Jersey courts can handle the incoming caseload, due to a large number of judicial vacancies throughout the state.
Boy Scouts Likely Major Focus Of Coming Lawsuits
The Boy Scouts of America already face a growing number of claims involving sexual abuse nationwide, each raising similar allegations that the organization covered up credible instances of abuse that mainly occurred during the period the organization was run out of New Jersey. Plaintiffs indicate they were exposed to known or suspected sexual predators allowed to volunteer or work for the Boy Scouts.
According to allegations raised in complaints already filed, Boy Scouts of America buried information about known threats to children by keeping secret “perversion files” on those considered to be sexual predators who had worked with the organization.
Plaintiffs maintain those files were maintained in New Jersey for some time, before the organization relocated to Texas, indicating that between 1944 and 2016, there were 7,819 perpetrators who were either troop leaders or volunteers, believed to have abused at least 12,254 victims.
The Boy Scouts of America has confirmed the existence of the files, indicating they were used to ensure the group never knowingly allowed a sexual predator access to youths in its organization. However, the growing litigation over prior failures to protect children may now threaten the future of the organization, which was founded in 1910.
As media attention has focused on the long history of sexual abuse problems in the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church and other organizations that have actively covered up known and credible allegations for decades, a number of states have introduced new legislation designed to extend the statute of limitations for individuals to bring claims for prior abuse.
Two dozen states in total have passed similar laws in 2019, according to a report by ChildUSA, a non-profit child protection organization.