What Is the Child Victims Act in New York?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 13, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

All civil lawsuits have statutes of limitation -- time limits after which you can longer sue. These statutes can vary depending on the type of offense and the state, but all are designed to have parties litigate an issue while evidence and memories are still fresh.

This can be tough when dealing with certain offenses like sexual assault, especially when the victim is a child at the time. Children can be too fearful to report sexual assault until they are older, and by then, the statute of limitations on their ability to sue their attacker may have tolled. New York has some of the nation's most restrictive statutes of limitations when it comes to child sex assault lawsuits, but the state is trying to change that.

New York, New Law

As it stands now, victims of childhood sex abuse in the Empire State have until they are 23 to sue their attacker. The statute of limitations is even shorter when suing an institution -- like a school or church -- where the abuse took place: survivors can't sue these after they turn 21. Criminal offenses like rape, aggravated sexual abuse, or course of sexual conduct against a child can be prosecuted at any time, but if the abuse doesn't fall within these limited categories, a victim must press criminal charges before they turn 23.

The proposed Child Victims Act would extend those time limits:

  • Survivors could file a civil lawsuit until they turn 50;
  • Survivors could file criminal charges until they turn 28; and
  • There would be a one-year window during which cases from any time could proceed in court.

Time for a Change

The New York Times says similar legislation has been debated for over a decade, with victim advocates pushing for longer statutes of limitation, and institutions like the Catholic Church opposing the window that could open it and other organizations that serve young people up to hundreds or thousands of new claims.

Perhaps this is the year the bill, which has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, finally passes. "Now is the time," survivor and competitive speed skater Bridie Farrell, told the Times. "The people who are speaking up are famous people, with fortunes and legal teams and PR teams ... they were too scared to talk. So how do you expect a child to do it?"

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