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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation into law this week which greatly extends the time victims of child sex abuse have to bring lawsuits and criminal charges against their attackers.
The new law, known as the Child Victims Act, was a campaign promise made by Cuomo, which allows child sex abuse victims to bring criminal charges against an abuser until the age of 28, and extends the statute of limitations for abuse lawsuits until the age of 55. The previous law required both criminal and civil claims to be filed by the age of 23 for any acts that allegedly occurred before the age of 18.
The legislation comes amid increasing awareness about the extent of clergy sex abuse cases that have occurred for decades, and other high-profile situations where abused children are not comfortable stepping forward until decades later.
Extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse lawsuits was opposed by both Republicans and the Catholic Church. However, following the mid-term elections, Democrats gained enough power in the New York state legislature to push the bill through both houses last month.
“We are here today because survivors who endured unimaginable pain came forward with great courage and sacrificed their own privacy to make change for others,” Cuomo said in a press release. “This bill brings justice to people who were abused, and rights the wrongs that went unacknowledged and unpunished for too long. By signing this bill, we are saying nobody is above the law, that the cloak of authority is not impenetrable, and that if you violate the law, we will find out and you will be punished and justice will be done.”
The new law is partially retroactive, allowing those who had previously filed claims that had been time-barred a one-year window to file charges. It also puts in place judicial training requirements for child sex abuse.
Most of the new law takes effect immediately, however there is a six-month delay on the provisions that allow previously time-barred cases to be refiled.
In recent months, a steady stream of new information about the widespread extent of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, raising awareness among victims that they are not alone in dealing with the effects of activity that occurred when they were a minor.
In August 2018, a grand jury report highlighted cases involving at least 90 Catholic priests accused of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area, involving allegations and cover-ups that spanned decades.
That report indicated that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up abuse involving priests who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. After 90 of those priests were identified, it sparked investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide.
In addition, the Society of Jesus released a list of 50 Jesuit priests credibly accused of sexual assault on minors and vulnerable adults late last month, some of whom served in New York.
Last month, an attorney representing a number of victims announced that the Catholic Church had agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former priest in New Jersey.