ALBANY — The Child Victims Act received a second extension, bringing the filing deadline for child sexual abuse cases past the statute of limitations to Aug. 14, 2021.
Championed for years by New Baltimore activist and attorney Gary Greenberg, who is a survivor of child sexual abuse, the law initially opened a one-year window of opportunity for claimants of child sexual abuse to bring their case to civil court, regardless of the statute of limitations and when the alleged abuse took place.
The law originally went into effect Aug. 15, 2019, and allowed civil cases alleging child sexual abuse to be brought against individuals or institutions through Aug. 14, 2020. But the COVID-19 outbreak in March shut down courts and limited the ability of legal procedures to be carried out, so in May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the look-back window by five months, to Jan. 14, 2021.
The state Legislature on May 27 voted to extend the filing date a second time, to Aug. 14, 2021.
“Due to the pandemic and the coronavirus, they had closed the courts and a lot of victims couldn’t file their cases and it has been a period of isolation, so it was felt that it was best to extend the year and give victims more time,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg estimated there are about 2,000 cases brought to court through the Child Victims Act, but he believes there are many more out there.
“There are more coming and as more people come forward, other victims will come forward,” he said. “With the period that we are in, with the coronavirus, that was limiting victims’ ability to find lawyers to take their case, the courts were closed down and a lot of law offices were closed down, so it created a situation. The extension will give people more time to find a lawyer and hopefully we will get the word out that it has been extended.”
The state Senate approved the extension unanimously by a vote of 60-0, and the Assembly passed it by a 134-10 vote.
Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, voted for the extension.
“I am very happy the Child Victims Act has been extended for another year, because the uncontrollable circumstances caused by this pandemic shouldn’t stop anybody from seeking justice,” Tague said. “My greatest hope is that as the actions of more bad actors are brought to light, we create a better world for our children in which abusers can never feel safe.”
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, voted for the extension to give victims the chance to come forward.
“The opportunity for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice should not be derailed by COVID-19,” Barrett said. “These individuals have been through devastating trauma, and the decision to speak about it in a court of law is not an easy one. I want survivors to know that New York stands by them and their choice to hold their abuser accountable. Giving survivors more time to deal with their memories, gather needed information and initiate civil claims under the Child Victims Act — even as we continue to deal with the trauma of the ongoing pandemic — is the least we can do.”
State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, supported the one-year extension because of the disruptions to the court system posed by the virus outbreak.
“I voted yes on this bill because it’s important that the victims of child sexual abuse be afforded more time to fully utilize our legal process and ultimately see justice,” Jordan said.
Greenberg said he believes thousands more claimants will come forward.
“I anticipate thousands more will file. There are a lot of victims out there. Two-thousand claims are a lot, but if you figure that about 40,000 children are sexually abused a year in New York state, if you go back 50 years, that is a lot of cases,” Greenberg said. “This gives victims the opportunity to further explore their case and find a lawyer and file a claim.”
Greenberg is also lobbying for a victims fund to assist child sexual abuse victims who are unable to file their case in civil court because their abuser lacks resources or has died.