Adults abused as children decades ago in New York could file civil lawsuits against their abusers and the institutions that employed them, if a national surge of legislative reform reaches Albany.
Advocates for child sex abuse victims say that this year, the prospects look good for a bill that sank four times previously following strong opposition from Catholic and ultra-Orthodox groups. If passed, the legislation could ease the way for a slew of lawsuits against Jewish and Catholic institutions accused of failing to report accounts of child sex abuse to law enforcement authorities.
“I’ve never been more optimistic we can succeed in 2013,” the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, said.
Yeshiva University may also be casting a wary eye toward Albany as it continues to investigate a scandal involving abuse allegations first reported by the Forward and dating back four decades.
Read the Forward’s COMPLETE COVERAGE of the allegations of abuse against staffers at Yeshiva U. high school.
The bill, known as the Child Victims Act, still faces a real test in the state senate where a key Democrat, Jeffrey Klein, indicated he would not support it.
But, Markey said, the success of similar legislation in other states as well as a wave of similar bills being considered across the country this year gave her hope.
The statute of limitations sets a time limit within which victims of abuse must file civil claims against their alleged abusers or within which prosecutors must seek indictments against alleged perpetrators. The statute for civil and criminal charges varies state by state. In New York, those who claim they were abused as children must file a civil claim before their 23rd birthday. But many experts on child sexual abuse say it can take far longer than that for victims of such abuse to understand and confront what was done to them, and then resolve to go to court for redress, which can exacerbate already existing trauma.
This year, a dozen states are considering — or have already passed — legislation that extends or lifts time limits for abuse victims to file civil suits against individuals or institutions culpable for their abuse, or for prosecutors to pursue criminal cases. The legislation covers only sexual abuse cases occurring from the present day onwards, so some states are also considering bills that would open up a brief window for retroactive claims.