Some Facts About the Child Victims Act

What is the Child Victims Act?

The Child Victims Act is a bill that’s been pending in the New York State legislature for 12 years, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, extend the civil statute of limitations, and open a one-year retroactive window during which civil cases whose statutes of limitation have already expired could be brought in court.

Why This Matters & Why We Need The Window

Currently, under New York State law, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse is 5 years after the victim turns 18 – age 23. Many survivors of child sexual abuse never report their abuse. Of those who do, many don’t even report until decades after the abuse. Many factors contribute to this delay in reporting including shame the victim feels, threats made by abusers, fear of not being believed, pressure by community members to keep silent, and often a desire to try and forget the trauma happened.

Once a survivor turns 23, their abuser can walk into a police station, give a full confession, shake the desk sergeant’s hand, and leave scot free.

Because of New York State’s abysmal statute of limitations, thousands of sexual abusers walk free every year, unidentified, unprosecuted, free – given that statistically abusers are likely to have more than one victim – to keep abusing.

It’s About Protecting Children

Once the statute of limitations runs out, survivors have little recourse against their abusers. They can out them publicly, but because they have no way of proving their allegation in court, they run the risk of being sued by their abuser for libel. The Child Victims Act would change this by opening up a one-year lookback window, allowing survivors to identify, and sue their abusers in court. Once a survivor wins a suit against their abuser, that abuser can be publicized as a predator whom parents should keep their kids away from.

It’s About Justice for Survivors

Survivors of sexual abuse often suffer from a host of issues resulting from the trauma they’ve experienced: PTSD, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction, and self-harm, among others.

On average, it costs survivors between $300,000 – $1,000,000 to treat these effects of child sexual abuse. Most survivors are either forced to pay for their treatment out of their own pockets, or do without it if it’s beyond their means. The Child Victims Act would allow survivors to hold their abusers financially response for the abuse they’ve committed, and they damage they’ve caused.

So Why Isn’t the Child Victims Act Law Yet?

For the past 12 years, New York State senate Republicans have, at the behest of several powerful special interests, been blocking every attempt to bring the Child Victims Act to the floor for a vote. Among these special interests are the New York Catholic ConferenceAgudath Israel of AmericaBoy Scouts of America, the United Federation of Teachers, and various insurance companies, including the American Insurance Association, Liberty Mutual, and Zurich Insurance. State senate majority leader John Flanagan in particular has for the last few years been actively preventing the Child Victims Act from leaving committee and coming to the floor for the vote.

What You Can Do to Help

Call your state senator. Seriously, it’s the most effective way to interact with your representatives. To find your New York State senator, Click Here to head over to the senate directory. You’ll be asked to enter your address, and after you hit Find My Senator, you’ll be brought to your senator’s contact page. Make sure to let your senator know that as a constituent you support the Child Victims Act with the lookback window and that if they’d like your continued support they’ll support it too.

Schedule a meeting with your senator. After all, they’re your representatives. Give their district office a call and say that as a constituent you’d like to schedule a meeting in person to discuss the Child Victims Act.

Follow ZA’AKAH’s efforts on Facebook. We post regular updates on the fight to pass the Child Victims Act, along with volunteer opportunities, and action alerts.

Come to our actions. ZA’AKAH regularly goes up to Albany to lobby legislators for the Child Victims Act, and demonstrate in the New York State Capitol. We also occasionally schedule demonstrations around New York City to protest institutional opposition to the Child Victims Act, and institutional coverup of sexual abuse.

Get involved on social media. Read about the Child Victims Act. Share articles. Start discussions. Be a part of the conversation. Find your elected officials online and Tweet at them, send their pages Facebook messages, and comment on their posts asking them about the Child Victims Act.

Got Any Questions?

We’d love to hear from you, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have about the Child Victims Act. Send me an email and we’ll get right back to you with an answer.

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Senator Catharine Young Protecting Child Abusers

No, Sen. Young, New Yorkers Won’t Be Fooled By Your Coverup Bill

After 12 years of Republican stonewalling on the Child Victims Act, Senator Catherine Young seems to have introduced a bill that the Republicans can get behind. This is not the first time that Republicans or their allies have introduced an alternative to the Child Victims Act. Two notable alternatives have been introduced in the past, one by Republican Senator Andrew Lanza, and the other by IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein. The central point of contention between Republicans and Democrats on this issue seems to be the “lookback window,” a provision survivors and advocates have been pushing for which would open a one-year window during which civil child sexual abuse cases whose statutes of limitation have expired could nonetheless be brought in court against both abusive individuals, and any institutions that enabled or protected them.

For the past 12 years, powerful interests in New York State, such as the New York Catholic Conference, Agudath Israel of America, Boy Scouts of America, the American Insurance Association, Zurich Insurance, and Liberty Mutual, have been spending millions of lobbying dollars in opposition to any version of the Child Victims Act containing a lookback window provision. While the Child Victims Act has been passed several times in recent years by the state assembly, it has, year after year, been stalled in committee in the senate by majority leader John Flanagan and has yet to even reach the floor for a vote in the senate.

Which brings us to senator Young’s proposal. Her alternative would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse entirely, leave the civil statute of limitations as is, and establish a $300 million fund, to be replenished every year with another $50 million, to reimburse survivors for any claims against individuals or institutions that have passed the statute of limitations. What’s particularly striking about her proposal is the fact that it’s not just a one-time event, but will continue to exist after the first year, paying expired claims well into the future. This fund would be paid for by civil asset forfeiture money currently held by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The bill came as a surprise to survivors and advocates for the Child Victims Act, especially since senator Young consulted only one survivor before introducing the bill despite being aware of two large coalitions of survivors and advocates who for years have been advocating for the Child Victims Act, and a vast majority of whom oppose her alternative.

On its face, her proposal seems like an attempt to establish a bail-out for institutions that for decades have hidden behind New York State’s abysmal laws to avoid responsibility for enabling child sexual abuse and protecting abusers. For no other civil or criminal matter does there exist a fund like this which, on behalf of the parties responsible, and with no intention of seeking reimbursement from the responsible parties. For no other civil matter does the state bar access to court for claimants. While some might claim that since the statute of limitations has expired on these cases the claimants, in fact, don’t have any right to claim that they’re being barred from court, the existence of one injustice—the abysmal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse currently on the books in New York—doesn’t excuse another injustice—the barring of survivors from accessing the courts once we’re finally righting that terrible wrong.

Furthermore, in failing to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, senator Young makes it clear that her proposal is not just a one-time reparative measure to atone for past wrongs while ensuring justice in the future; rather it is a perpetual bailout of abusers and institutions paid for by the citizens of New York. The message this proposal sends to institutions who, through their negligence, indifference, self-interest, and disregard for the safety of their charges, were responsible for the sexual violation of children is that not only will there be no consequences for their negligence in the past, there will never be any consequences in the future. Given no incentive to reform, institutions will continue doing what they’ve always done: protecting abusers, silencing victims, and endangering children.

Senator Young claims that her proposal serves a population that will be underserved by the Child Victims Act—survivors who were abused by individuals who do not have enough assets for a lawyer to be interest in taking a case against them on contingency basis. That, at least, is true. For such survivors, particularly if they don’t have the necessary money to pay a lawyer’s hourly rate, the likelihood of them getting justice in court is slim. While it may be true that fund like the one proposed by senator Young would take care of survivors in that situation, it seems disingenuous to require survivors as a whole to choose between holding institutions accountable and disincentivizing future institutional negligence, and giving victims of private abusers access to the funds they need to pay for treatment. If senator Young is serious about helping those survivors who will be underserved by the Child Victims Act, she should propose this fund as an amendment to the Child Victims Act, rather than trying to divide the survivor community with an impossible, and wildly unjust choice.

Even if this were added to the Child Victims Act, as it stands there are glaring process with this proposal. No actual process is detailed in the bill for filing a claim with the commission it would establish. No evidentiary standard is specified, and no criteria are defined for acceptance or rejection of a claim. All of that is left to the discretion of a chief administrator who

In its original version, this proposal made no mention of whether or not the results of these hearings could be publicized by survivors who might wish to publicly name their abuser. One of the primary motivations behind the lookback window is the ability, once a civil trial is won, to publicly identify abusers thus warning people who may be oblivious to the threat living in their neighborhood, teaching in their school, or babysitting their kids, that they should keep their children away from these heretofore hidden predators. The bill was amended to include a provision establishing a website with a list of people who have been found by these hearings to be abusers, but there’s no indication whether or not such a list would hold up to a court challenge by someone named on it, and it doesn’t require the listing of institutions found responsible for enabling or covering up abuse. This reinforces the clear fact that this bill is intended to do nothing but shield institutions from monetary and reputational responsibility.

New York has for too long denied justice to survivors of child sexual abuse, and in doing so has endangered the lives of every child in New York State. On average it takes survivors of sexual abuse between 20-40 years to disclose their abuse. A statute of limitations of only 5 years for child sexual abuse is nothing but a cruel affront to justice. Abusers in New York know that they are less likely to be prosecuted for their crimes in New York than in the vast majority of this country. Shielded by New York State law, they abuse with impunity. Institutions, similarly aware of the improbability of being brought to court for covering up sexual abuse, continue to silence victims and shield abusers in their employ thus endangering the lives of every child under their care.

The only way to get serious about ensuring justice for survivors and protecting New York’s children is by extending or eliminating the civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, eliminating the 90 day notice of claim for claims against public institutions, and opening a retroactive window during which all survivors whose claims against individual abusers and institutions that protected abusers and silenced their victims can be brought in civil court, all of which is covered by the Child Victims Act that the Republicans have been refusing to even allow to the floor of the senate for a vote.

So why are senator Young and the other 18 sponsors of this bill pushing a bill that so plainly bails out institutions at the expense of survivors?

Recent polls have shown that 90% of New Yorkers support the Child Victims Act. The Republicans are well aware, given how many senators are up for reelection this year, that New Yorkers are fed up with their obstruction of the Child Victims Act, and are attempting to use this poison pill proposal as smokescreen for their inaction. They’re hoping that New York voters will see senator Young’s proposal as a step toward reasonable compromise, instead of the state sponsored bailout for abusive institutions it actually is.

Sorry, senator, New York won’t be that easily fooled.

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Busting Some Myths About The Child Victims Act

Agudath Yisrael of America, the Catholic Church, and Boy Scouts of America have been fighting fiercely against efforts to eliminate the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, and open a one year retroactive window for civil cases that have exceeded their statute of limitation, because they each know full well that for decades they’ve been responsible for the abuse of countless children, and the coverup of those crimes. It should be noted that an institution is only civilly liable for abuse that happens within the institution if they were complicit in covering it up, or were alerted to abuse and failed to act appropriately.

That means, contrary to what Agudath Israel of America, the Catholic Church, and Boy Scouts of America want you to believe, that if abuse happened in an institution, and the teacher was suspended or fired pending a police investigation following an immediate report to authorities, the institution is not at all liable. Institutions are only liable if they were complicit in covering it up.

When Agudah, the Church, or the Boy Scouts tell you that they’re worried about going bankrupt if the Child Victims Act passes, what they’re effectively doing is acknowledging that they’re so sure they’yre liable for so much abuse, that if even a fraction of victims of the victims of the abuse they covered up come forward, they’re facing the threat of bankruptcy.

They’re essentially admitting guilt, and asking us not to care.

Here’s the problem:

1) How can you expect parents to trust your institutions if you’re admitting to them that abuse was covered up in the past, and you refuse to do anything to make reparation for that?

2) How can you expect parents to trust your institutions if you make it so devastatingly clear that you will always put your institutions’ interests before justice and their children’s safety?

3) To the institutions, the administrations, and the groups lobbying for their interests child sexual abuse might be “something that happened 40 years ago,” but to the survivors of the abuse they enabled and covered up, it’s their everyday reality. Abuse doesn’t cease to matter just because some time passed, certainly not to the victim. Especially when –

4) On average, it takes victims of child sexual abuse between 10-30 years to disclose. Having a statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, therefore, certainly one that closes on a survivor’s 23rd birthday, is nothing short of a categorical denial of justice. Consider this: One a survivor’s birthday, their abuser can literally walk into a police station, make a full confession in front of the entire police force, and then turn around and walk out a free man.

5) Statistically speaking, child sexual abusers are repeat offenders. It’s rarely just once. A statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, therefore, limits law enforcement’s ability to prosecute, because they have to wait until a young enough victim who’s not only willing to disclose, but also willing to file an official complaint, comes forward. In the meantime, before such a victim comes forward, that abuser is free to keep abusing.

5) Having a statute of limitations on child sexual abuse incentivises cover up, because it gives an end date, a goal, so to speak, to those who would cover child sexual abuse up. Keep the victims quiet and intimidated until they’re 23, and your institution is free of any responsibility. Passing the Child Victims Act would disincentivize cover up, because while institutional administrators and community leader may think they can easily keep survivors quiet until they’re 23, they’d be hard pressed to keep them quiet for their entire lives. At that point it’s easier to just address the problem than try to cover up for that long. The truth always comes out eventually.

6) Think about what the argument “We shouldn’t pass the Child Victims Act because it will bankrupt institutions for something that happened 40 years ago” means. It means that by all rights, that institution should have made restitution for its crimes 40 years ago. And for 40 years, instead of making restitution, it has been able to use that money instead to keep itself open, with the same administration that was responsible for covering up abuse in the first place. The argument is essentially, “We’ve gotten away with covering up sexual abuse for this long, we shouldn’t be held accountable anymore.” On the contrary. The fact that liable institutions have stayed open for as long as they have is compounding disgrace on disgrace, and should never be justification for denying justice to survivors of child sexual abuse.

7) The focus on institutions vis a vis the Child Victims Act deflects attention from the real problem. Most abuse is not committed in an institutional setting. Most abuse happens in the home, by a friend, a family friend, an acquaintance, or even a close relative. Those survivors should not be denied the justice they deserve just because institutions are scared of justice finally catching up to them, forcing them to reckon for crimes they thought they’d gotten away with. Particularly because –

8) Over lifetime, it costs, on average, between $300,000 and $1,000,000 to treat the effects of child sexual abuse related trauma. That’s money most survivors don’t have. For many, if not most survivors, the only hope they have of getting the treatment they need is by suing their abusers and the people and institutions responsible for enabling it for the money they need to cover the costs of treatment.

9) But it’s not just about money. It is unconstitutional to open a retroactive criminal statute of limitations window. That means, that barring civil action, there is no way to make an official record that someone is a child sexual abuser. That matters because, as noted earlier, most abusers have many more than one victim. Without the ability to sue these abusers after their criminal statutes of limitations have expired, there is no other way, legally, to identify and expose these abusers, and warn the community away from them. Without a retroactive civil statute of limitations window, countless abusers will continue to walk free, unidentified, anonymous to their future victims until it’s too late.

Early on in my work around sexual abuse, I was taught a very important lesson by a very great man: The second an institution becomes more important than the people it serves, it no longer deserves to exist.
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