Come Wednesday, victims of childhood sexual abuse will be able to file lawsuits against their abusers during a one-year “look-back window” – and four legislators are going the extra mile to spread the word.
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywomen Yuh-Line Niou, Rodneyse Bichotte and Catalina Cruz shared their experiences as survivors of childhood sexual abuse in a video ad campaign designed to educate other adult survivors about the one-year window.
Previously, lawsuits against abusers had to be filed by victims before they turn 23. But the Child Victims Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February, allows victims to file criminal and civil claims up until their 28th and 55th birthdays, respectively. The law will also lift the statute of limitations for one year, and the ad outlines how survivors who were previously too old to qualify can file a suit during that period.
“When you’ve been sexually abused as a child, it can take years, or even decades, to process what happened,” Niou says in the video.
Now, several institutions are gearing up for an onslaught of lawsuits.
In 2003, when a similar one-year window for childhood victims of sexual abuse was opened in California, 1,000 lawsuits were filed, according to the Los Angeles Times. Most of the suits were aimed at the Catholic Church and resulted in the Diocese of San Diego filing for bankruptcy. Here, the Archdiocese of New York – which campaigned heavily for years against the Child Victims Act, relenting only when Democrats took the state Senate and the bill’s passage was inevitable – has already sued its insurance providers to ensure they will make payouts in anticipation of forthcoming lawsuits, The New York Times reports.
A lawsuit against Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders is already prepared to launch on Wednesday, the Daily News reports. And other victims are preparing to sue the Catholic Church during this window, according to the Times.
“The significance of it (the look-back window) is a switch in the balance of power,” Marci Hamilton, chief executive of Child USA, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting children, told the Times. “There was a severe imbalance of power that led to their abuse in the first place. The culture shut them out of the legal system until now. For them, this is validation.”
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