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When the Pennsylvania grand jury released their report on the widespread sexual abuse in six of the state’s Catholic dioceses, one of the things they mentioned was that most of the cases were too old to be prosecuted. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations allows child victims of sexual crimes to file criminal charges until the age of 50, and civil lawsuits until the age of 30.

In New York, however, victims of any age will now have a small window of time during which they can seek prosecution against their abusers. The New York State Legislature just passed the Child Victims Act on January 28, 2019, in response to increased calls for justice for child victims of Catholic Church sexual abuse.

New York Passes New Law Opening One-Year Window

The Child Victims Act, which was approved overwhelmingly, will revive previously barred actions and open up a one-year, one-time-only period to allow victims to seek civil action, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

The new bill also puts into place a new statute of limitations that allows victims to pursue criminal prosecution of sexual offenses against minors until the child turns 28 years of age, up from 23 years, and to pursue civil actions against abusers until the age of 55.

Other versions of the Child Victims Act have been sponsored in the past, but they never made it past the Senate. At the last election, however, the Democrats won a majority in the Senate, and their candidates pushed for a vote.

The state Catholic Conference lobbied against the measure. They later withdrew opposition when lawmakers adopted language that would ensure public institutions could also be sued during the limited window of time. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic himself, has been criticized by the church for supporting the bill, but Cuomo stated he was in line with what the Pope has expressed on the issue.

During the vote itself, at least four lawmakers admitted they had suffered from sexual abuse.

Other States Considering Statute of Limitations Reform

The statute of limitations has barred many victims throughout the country from filing lawsuits against abusive priests and other clergies. Pennsylvania lawmakers tried to pass a similar limited-time window to allow victims to pursue prosecution, but the bill stalled in the Senate last fall.

Advocates for child abuse victims hope that New York’s passing of the Child Victims Act will encourage other states to follow suit. According to Child USA, 38 states including the District of Columbia have amended their child sex abuse statutes of limitations since January 2002, and it’s likely that lawmakers will continue to focus on reform.

Because victims often suffer from prolonged or delayed trauma, it can take them years to find the courage to come forward. Meanwhile, many of the abusers in the Catholic Church were shielded from action against them by the church itself, which had a pattern of covering up the abuse, according to the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

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