Jeffrey Epstein and New Sex Abuse Legislation

While the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse was extended after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act (CVA) on February 14, 2019, the Albany Times Union reported on October 29, 2019, that lawmakers and advocates were seeking an expansion of protections for survivors of sexual abuse. The Times Union reported that a group of activists gathered outside the New York City mansion of deceased convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein was convicted in Florida in 2008 after pleading guilty to soliciting a prostitute who was also underage. He was arrested in July 2019 on federal charges related to sex trafficking of minors in both Florida and New York, but he died in his jail cell on August 10, 2019, while awaiting trial for those charges.

The Times Union noted that advocates were hopeful that other states will also adopt some version of the CVA. New York state senator Brad Hoylman told the Times Union that it was dependent upon state legislatures to take these steps because the United States Congress did not appear to be capable of passing legislation addressing the issue.

Adult Survivors Act

On October 25, 2019, the Times Union reported that Hoylman introduced legislation that would temporarily allow people sexually abused as adults to pursue otherwise time-barred civil lawsuits against their alleged offenders. The bill entitled the Adult Survivors Acts would enact the same one-year extension that applied to CVA claims (which Hoylman also sponsored) but would apply to individuals abused at 18 years of age or older.

Epstein was cited as an example of how sexual abuse can somehow cross state lines, and Florida does not currently have any version of the CVA. The Times Union listed California, Montana, Arizona, and New Jersey as being states that have enacted measures similarly allowing for an increased statute of limitations for child victims of sexual abuse.

According to the Times Union, the rally outside the Epstein mansion was held by the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and victims advocacy group Safe Horizon. Safe Horizon provides support for victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking, in addition to many other violent crimes.

The Times Union noted that many of the CVA cases already filed have focused on larger-name organizations and institutions such as the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America. While certain survivors were having difficulty getting legal representation to assist with claims against individuals with fewer assets, the Times Union reported on October 14, 2019, that state senators were seeking a way to add provisions to the CVA that would provide a fund to help pay legal fees.

Private Funds for Civil Cases Proposed

State senator James Gaughran planned to propose a private fund managed by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services or another state agency to cover legal fees associated with filing civil cases. He told the Times Union that he planned to draft a bill before the state Legislature reconvenes in January.

State senator John Brooks told the Times Union that a fund in this year’s budget would probably be “tight” because of new federal tax laws and said lawmakers were still evaluating cases already filed and how many were not being reported because of no chances of compensation. Brooks said he was exploring a fund that would not only assist people in pursuing cases in court but also deal with some of the other issues relating to sexual abuse, such as mental or physical health problems.

The Times Union reported that Gary Greenberg, founder of the Fighting for Children PAC, called for a private-public victims fund to compensate all survivors. He told the Times Union that he supported Gaughran’s proposal but wanted additional recourse for victims who might not want or be able to file lawsuits but still have medical bills and other expenses.

New York state senator Alessandra Biaggi actually published an article on BuzzFeed News in which she claimed that she was silent about her childhood sexual abuse for 25 years until she had the opportunity to speak out about it on the floor of the New York State Senate. She noted that three of her colleagues in the Senate, Yuh-Line Niou, Rodneyse Bichotte, and Catalina Cruz, also shared stories of childhood sexual abuse.

Biaggi also noted that one of the most vocal advocates for child sexual abuse victims has been Erin Merryn, the founder and president of Erin’s Law, registered with the State of Illinois and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a 501 (c)(4) nonprofit social welfare organization. Merryn was sexually abused and raped between 6 years of age and 8 years of age by an adult neighbor who threatened her to stay silent before her family relocated and she was then abused by a teenage cousin from 11 years of age to 13 years of age.

Merryn was named the Glamour Magazine 2012 Woman of the Year. People Magazine also named her one of the Heroes Among Us and one of 15 women changing the world in 2014.

Biaggi pointed out that 37 states have now passed Erin’s Law, which requires schools to provide preventative child sexual abuse education. Biaggi states that the passage of Erin’s Law and the CVA in New York meant that “New York is entering a new era of meaningful accountability.”

Erin’s Law teaches students in all grades up to 12th grade the age-appropriate techniques for recognizing sexual abuse and reporting it to adults. The law also teaches school personnel about child sexual abuse and teaches parents and guardians about warning signs of child sexual abuse.

Child Abuse Reporting Expansion (CARE) Act

State Assembly member Monica Wallace is the sponsor of the Child Abuse Reporting Expansion Act (CARE Act) that would adds clergy members to the list of mandatory reporters of child abuse and maltreatment. The bill would clarify that this mandatory reporting requirement supersedes any claim of clergy privilege relating to child sexual abuse.

The Times Union noted that the total number of cases filed under the CVA is now approaching 1,000. Under the CVA, claims that had not expired under the old limitations period after survivors turned 18 years of age are now allowed until victims turn 55 years of age, and claims that had expired were given a one-year extension that began six months after the governor signed the CVA.

The current one-year period allowing for an extended limitations period makes it important for all child sexual abuse victims to take action now while there is still the possibility of some measure of justice. There is not yet any indication that this period will be extended any further, so victims could again be without any recourse if they do not take the necessary action right now.

Despite Proposed Legislation, Getting Compensation Can Be a Challenge

Keep in mind that there is still significant pushback against these kinds of measures to provide greater rights to sexual abuse victims, as many potential defendants are among the parties that are raising concerns about the difficulty of defending against claims that may be several decades old. The CVA also eliminated the notice of claim requirement for bringing lawsuits against public institutions.

The CVA also required judges to undergo additional training concerning cases involving the sexual abuse of minors. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that the office of court administration would be required to provide training for judges concerning crimes involving the sexual abuse of minors.

CBS News reported that when sex abuse victim Jim Keenan settled his case with the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2018, he and 440 other sexual abuse victims were paid $210 million. CBS News noted that insurance rating agency A.M. Best had equated child sexual abuse claims to asbestos liability, and many churches and other groups could be facing liability in many of these cases because they failed to purchase insurance to cover them against sex abuse cases until the 1990s.

The result is often church dioceses going bankrupt, and the problem was expected to worsen because of the number of CVA claims being filed against churches. Even when evidence can be hard to obtain in these cases, experts told CBS that the prospects of winning a CVA settlement are usually good because their testimony can carry greater weight.

Contact a Sex Abuse Survivor Attorney for Help

You do not want to be negotiating any settlement to a childhood sexual abuse claim on your own. Many negligent parties will have insurance companies, and representatives for these insurers may try to convince you that they want to take care of you when nothing could be further from the truth.

If you are offered any lump sum settlement, know that whatever you are being presented is almost certainly a mere fraction of what you are actually entitled to. Let an experienced attorney handle all of your settlement negotiations, as they will know exactly what your case is really worth and fight to make sure that you are able to get a maximum award.

Contact the sex abuse attorneys at Hach & Rose, LLP today to discuss your child sexual abuse case and learn all about the options that are available to you. Our firm is dedicated to helping child sexual abuse victims hold their attackers accountable and we can provide a free consultation as soon as you call (212) 779-0057 or contact us online today.

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