New York’s Child Victims Act (CVA) has offered a way for thousands of adult victims of child sexual abuse to seek justice against their abusers. Now survivors have an even longer window of time to “look back” on their experiences and decide whether or not to file a lawsuit.
By extending the statute of limitations, the CVA permits victims to seek prosecution against their former abusers up until the age of 55. Before the law was passed, child victims only had until the age of 23 to take civil action.
Critically, the law also established a year-long widow in which survivors of any age could file suit against their abusers — no matter how long ago the abuse may have occurred. That “look back” window launched with the enactment of the CVA in August of last year.
COVID-19’s Impact on New York’s CVA
Nor surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the course of justice for survivors of child abuse in New York. With closed courts, massive case backlogs, and people practicing precautionary stay-at-home measures, it’s unlikely that all the survivors who would like to seek justice against their attackers have had the chance to do so.
For that reason, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law in May extending the look back window to January 2021. In August, the governor extended the window once again to August 14, 2021.
That means any victim of child abuse in New York State — no matter how long ago the abuse occurred — still has until next summer to file suit against their former abuser.
“The Child Victims Act brought a long-needed pathway to justice for people who were abused, and helps right wrongs that went unacknowledged and unpunished for far too long and we cannot let this pandemic limit the ability for survivors to have their day in court,” Governor Cuomo said in August.
“As New York continues to reopen and recover from a public health crisis, extending the look back window is the right thing to do and will help ensure that abusers and those who enabled them are held accountable.”
Fighting Back Against Powerful Institutions
By many accounts, the CVA has proved a success. In the first eight months of the law’s enactment, some 1,800 cases were filed in the state. The bill was the culmination of years of work by survivors and advocates, who faced staunch opposition from Catholic dioceses and the insurance industry.
But the law is not just an avenue of recourse for victims of clergy abuse. Many of the cases that have been filed target sports organizations, schools, foster care services, the Boy Scouts of America and other organizations where abusers hold positions of power. The law does not discriminate with regards to child abusers and those who enable them.
Several other states have passed similar laws extending the statute of limitations for child victims, some doing away with the age limit altogether.
For a full list, consult RAINN’s state by state guide on statutes of limitations.