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On the first day of eligibility under a new law that extends the New York child sexual abuse lawsuit statute of limitations, hundreds of adults have filed claims against the Catholic Church and other entities indicating that they were assaulted and victimized as children.
Throughout the state on Wednesday, New York courts received at least 427 complaints filed by adults who were prior victims of childhood sex abuse years ago in the state.
The claims would have been previously barred by the New York statute of limitations, which required claims for injuries suffered as a minor to be filed by an individual’s 18th birthday. However, following a series of high-profile church sex abuse scandals and information that suggests organizations have been actively suppressing claims for decades, the state legislature extended the time to file a New York sexual abuse lawsuit earlier this year,
The Child Victims Act was signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in February 2019, extending the statute of limitations for sex abuse claims in New York until the age of 55, and allowing criminal charges to be brought against an abuser until the victim is 28 years old.
The new law also provides a one-year opening of the New York statute of limitations for individuals whose claims were previously barred, allowing them 365 days to file a claim, starting August 14, 2019, regardless of when the sexual abuse occurred, or the current age of the victim.
In anticipation of the large number of child sexual abuse lawsuits, the state has set aside a group of 45 judges to specifically handle these cases.
“Child sexual abuse is a real epidemic. It’s been in the corners and in the shadows, but it is much more widespread than people want to admit,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release issued Wednesday. “The Child Victims Act says if you were sexually abused as a child, you have a right to justice and to make your case. Children have legal rights, and if you abuse a child, you’re going to have your day in court and you’re going to be called to answer for it.”
Most of the lawsuits appear to have been filed against the Catholic Church, but there are lawsuits against other organizations as well, including the Boy Scouts of America, hospitals and schools and other organizations responsible for the conduct of sexual predators who victimized minors.
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 pass the bill through both houses.
The law came 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.
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 February, the Vatican held a four-day conference on addressing problems of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, but critics complain that the conference did not result in any concrete action. However, the Pope did issue a decree that all such incidents have to be reported to law enforcement immediately.
A number of other states have also passed or are considering similar legislation to open the statute of limitations window for child sex abuse claims, since individuals were previously prevented from stepping forward to seek justice.