New York Child Victims Act Provides Justice for Child Abuse Victims
Posted on Monday, January 27th, 2020 at 10:30 am
On February 14, 2019, news came that the New York Child Victims Act (CVA) was signed into law. This law, although still relatively new, is groundbreaking for New York victims of child sexual abuse. Before the passage of the Child Victims Act, survivors had a strict time limit on when they could file a civil lawsuit against their abuser.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse only had a one-to-five year time period after their 18th birthday to pursue legal action against their abuser(s). Unfortunately, this meant that many survivors of childhood sexual trauma did not pursue lawsuits against their abusers at all, because they were neither mentally nor emotionally prepared to file a claim for damages until after that one-to-five year time period was over. As a result, many lawsuits pursued by child sex abuse survivors went nowhere because of New York’s strict statute of limitations.
However, the New York Child Victims Act extended the state’s statute of limitations. Now, a survivor of child sexual abuse has until their 55th birthday to pursue legal action against their abuser(s).
Additionally, the Child Victims Act helps child abuse survivors in another fundamental way. It creates a one-year “look back” period that allows them to pursue previously expired claims under the state’s old statute of limitations. What this means is that survivors who previously could not pursue legal action against their abuser(s), can now seek justice during this one-year window.
Public Officials Call For An Extension Of the One Year “Look Back” Window
Under the New York Child Victims Act, the one year “look back” window allowing child abuse survivors to pursue previously-expired lawsuits became effective on August 14, 2019. Unfortunately, this window is scheduled to close on August 14 of 2020. However, some public officials in New York are calling for it to be extended until August 14, 2021.
Since the “look back” window opened in 2019, New York has seen a sharp increase in the number of child sexual abuse lawsuits. Lawsuits have been filed against several organizations, ranging from the Boy Scouts to the Catholic Church.
According to the state Office of Court Administration, over 1,300 individual cases have been filed since August of 2019. This number is expected to increase over time. For Senator Brad Holyman, this is all the more reason to extend the “look back” window.
“New York shouldn’t let its one-year look-back window expire,” Sen. Hoylman stated to the public. “Other states, including California and New Jersey, have instituted multi-year revival windows for civil lawsuits because it can take decades for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to come forward.”
Why Don’t Victims Come Forward?
Unfortunately, it is challenging for the majority of child sex abuse survivors to come forward with their experience immediately. According to a statistics report from the National Center for Victims of Crime, “the prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine because it is often not reported; experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities.”
There are many reasons why a victim of childhood sexual abuse may not come forward. Survivors may feel scared, ashamed, threatened, or misunderstood for years – even decades – after the abuse took place.
Furthermore, it can take years for a survivor even to recognize that they were a victim of child sexual abuse, especially if the abuser was someone the victim trusted. According to Veronique Valliere, a psychologist who specializes in abuse, trauma, and mental health, sexual abusers use a variety of different tactics to keep their victims silent.
Abusers often position themselves as trusted figures of authority within children’s lives, which allows them to gain favor and take advantage of their status strategically:
“Status is very important in our society,” stated Valliere in a 2018 interview with WJAC. “Somebody’s status is often weighed against the value of the victim . . . Offenders are very good about picking victims that [are lower-status], lower credibility, or [have other types of] problems.
[For example, an abuser might be a] foster parent who mentors foster kids. Or a priest who helps families that need help. Then their status often overshadows, not only because the community is not willing to lose that person of status, but [because their] status gives [them] access. It gives [them] a position of trust.
We allow our children – and teach our children – that there are certain people in our society that you can trust . . . When those people abuse that power – exploit that position of trust – then the victim [may] not only feel more responsible but they [may] also [feel] controlled by that status as well. And the retaliation against victims that go against people of status is pretty high.”
Indeed, many child sexual abuse survivors face severe retaliation when they come forward with their stories. This retaliation may come from several different places, including family members, close friends, community members, and – if the abuser is a “high-status” offender – the media.
Because of this, many victims wait years before finally deciding to pursue legal action against their abusers. Often, retaliation can be so hard to cope with that many survivors believe the added trauma of pursuing legal action is not worth any amount of financial compensation.
Unfortunately, this means that the majority of child sexual abusers are never held accountable for their horrific actions.
Common Legal Defenses Against Child Sexual Abuse
In addition to facing potential retaliation from family, friends, and community members, survivors of childhood sexual abuse may also face harsh legal retaliation if they choose to pursue a civil lawsuit against their abuser.
A child abuser’s defense team will try to discredit the victim as unreliable, untrustworthy, and therefore unbelievable. Some of the most common legal defenses used to discredit abuse survivors in court include:
- “The victim did not come forward immediately” – Often, defense teams will claim that because the victim did not immediately come forward to report the abuse, then the abuse must have not taken place. A defense attorney might say:” You would call the police if you were mugged or robbed, so why didn’t you call the police if you were sexually abused?” However, there are many reasons why survivors of child sexual abuse may not immediately come forward. Victims may have felt too ashamed, frightened, or scared to report their experiences.
- “The victim does not act like a victim” – In some cases, a defense team may try to claim that a victim’s behavior after the alleged abuse does not align with “typical” victim behavior. What this usually means is that the victim may not visibly express symptoms of sadness or depression. However, mental health experts have consistently stated that there is no “typical” way for a victim to respond to being sexually abused as a child emotionally. Many survivors do not even realize that what they were experiencing was child sexual abuse until years – even decades – later. A victim is allowed to feel a range of emotions when coping with the aftermath of abuse, including anger, depression, denial, and more.
- “The victim remained friendly with the alleged abuser” – Even if a victim of childhood sexual abuse remains cordial with their abuser, this does not make the abuser’s behavior any less monstrous. A child cannot consent to sexual interaction with an adult, no matter what the circumstances. Furthermore, there are many tactics that abusers use to silence and take advantage of their victims. These tactics include establishing a trustworthy position within the victim’s life, gaining favor within the victim’s family and community, and shaming the victim into keeping the abuse a secret.
- “The victim’s story doesn’t add up” – If some of the details of a victim’s account do not seem to “add up,” then a defense attorney may claim that the victim is fabricating their abuse. However, memory fades rapidly with time, and when the brain’s protective circuitry is engaged (during a traumatic event), the prefrontal cortex can be extremely impaired. Even if a survivor vividly remembers specific details of their abuse, they may not be able to piece together an exact chain of events.
Seeking Help With Your Child Sexual Abuse Case
If you or someone you love has been forced to cope with the substantial impact of sexual abuse as a child, you have every right to pursue legal action against all responsible parties involved – even if the abuse occurred years ago.
Thanks to New York’s Child Victims Act, the state’s legal system now understands that it can take years for a survivor to overcome the trauma of sexual abuse, especially if that trauma occurred during childhood.
At Hach & Rose, LLP, we understand that coming forward with your abuse can be incredibly frightening. However, we want you to know that you do not have to face this difficult task alone.
Our compassionate team of attorneys can guide you through the process of filing a civil lawsuit against your abuser, so that you can seek justice, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
Contact our offices today at (212) 779-0057 to schedule a free, confidential consultation. Our dedicated legal team is prepared to do everything in our power to hold your abuser – and everyone who enabled your abuser – accountable for their atrocious actions.