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Today is a New Day for Childhood Sex Abuse Victims in New York

by Tess Rosenberg


After 13 arduous years, the Child Victims Act went into effect today in New York state, giving survivors of childhood sexual abuse the legal option to pursue justice they’ve long deserved. The act, passed this part February, implements measures that that will improve two of the state’s more oppresive limitations placed on survivors. One is the permanent extension of the period of time during which survivors have the legal right to prosecute their abusers and the institutions associated with them. The other is a yearlong window in New York State, beginning today, during which the statute of limitations will be completely suspended. 



New York State’s legislative history regarding prosecution of child sexual abuse is considered to be one of the most restrictive in the country. This is in comparison to multiple states that have already eliminated a statute of limitations for all sex felony crimes as well as the eighteen states (and District of Columbia) extending their statute of limitations this year. Before this reform, survivors of childhood sexual abuse in New York had only until their 23rd birthday to take legal action in response to the crimes committed against them. The short statute of limitations protected perpetrators and supported false narratives surrounding the ability of survivors to accurately report their past trauma.


The year-long period beginning today, in which survivors of any age can hold abusers and associated institutions legally accountable for their crimes, is commonly referred to as a “look-back window.” This move follows California’s successful enactment of a look-back window in 2003 and the state’s current deliberation over whether or not to implement another in the coming years. The permanent increase of the statute of limitations in New York will allow survivors to pursue misdemeanor charges up to the age of 25, felony charges up to 28, and civil suits up to 55. 



Not without its opposition, the Child Victim’s Act resistance was funded heavily by institutions who would suffer from the Act going into effect. This includes leaders in the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Jewish community and the Boy Scouts of America—groups with a history of enabling and perpetrating crimes of childhood sexual abuse. But with democratic control of both the state Senate and Assembly, as well as ongoing conversations between Governor Cuomo and advocates on this issue, the act overwhelmingly passed both legislative houses and was signed by the Governor earlier this year. 


With the changes going into effect today, “New York Courts are expecting to see hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits filed in the coming weeks and months,” according to NPR. While these lawsuits will undoubtedly bring an immense amount of pain to the surface, this is an unprecedented opportunity to close wounds that the newly overturned laws prevented from healing in full. Hopefully, this pain and accountability will lead not only justice in the present but prevention in the future.  

Top photo screenshot courtesy of CBS New York.

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