Have you been the victim of child abuse or sexual abuse that occurred many years ago? There now may be ways to avoid time limits on bringing a claim. Call Merson Law immediately to discuss your matter confidentially and for free.
“I don’t understand, frankly, what New York is waiting on,” blasted attorney Michael Dolce, a victim of sexual assault when he was a boy who led a six-year crusade to change statute of limitations laws in his home state of Florida.
“It’s ridiculous, you look at a state like New York…why would you not want the laws to favor our kids?”
In Florida, there are no statute of limitations for civil lawsuits or criminal charges for abuse that occurred when a victim is younger than 16-years-old, according to reforms passed in 2010.
Under New York law, victims of sexual abuse have until the age of 23 to bring either criminal charges or file a civil lawsuit against their alleged abusers — one of the shortest windows in the country that activists say isn’t enough time for traumatized victims to come forward.
Efforts to pass the Child Victims Act have failed four times since 2006 after first passing the Assembly and eventually getting blocked in the state Senate.
“I can’t believe that New York has the worst statute of limitations. That’s a national shame,” said attorney Carmen Durso, who successfully spearheaded a movement to change statute of limitations laws in his home state of Massachusetts in 2012.
Advocates for the reform point to research that indicates that a staggering 80% of people who were abused as children will wait until adulthood to tell anyone about the molestation, according to a 2010 National Institutes of Health study.
In Massachusetts, a victim can file criminal charges as long as 27 years after their 16th birthday.
Those victims might find themselves shut out from any legal recourse once they feel ready to pursue a lawsuit or criminal action, advocates for reform say.
“Why lock out people who haven’t had a chance to recover from their injury brought on them by adults?” Georgia Rep. Jason Spencer, who sponsored a bill to reform the laws in his state, told the News. “You are protecting pedophiles when you do this. This is not justice,” he fumed.
“We have a responsibility to put these laws in place,” said Lauren Book, a candidate for Florida State Senate and a victim of sex abuse at the hands of her nanny, Waldina Flores.
Book, the daughter of a prominent lobbyist, helped lead an effort to add an additional 32 years to Florida’s statute of limitations.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said.
There are 37 states that have eliminated criminal statute of limitations for felony counts in cases of sex abuse of children, according to research by an advocacy group run by Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. Others have raised the age by which victims can pursue a case, while more have created “window provisions,” a period of time during which people, regardless of age, can file a civil suit against their alleged abusers.
“All anyone’s asking for is to have the courthouse doors unlocked,” Justin Conway, 38, whose home state of Georgia passed a window provision in 2012 that allowed him and six other men to file a civil lawsuit against their karate instructor, Craig Peeples, who they say sexually assaulted them as boys.
They were previously denied a criminal case because of Georgia’s statute of limitations laws that required them to bring charges before age 23 — just like in New York.
“What’s different now is survivors have a voice. What civil litigation does is it enables the cost of care for victims to be placed on pedophiles and perpetrators as opposed to the taxpayer and, most importantly, it identifies unknown predators in our community,” Conway told the News.
In New York, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey is pushing a bill that would eliminate statute of limitations outright in both criminal and civil cases and would provide for a one-year time window provision where people are able to file civil lawsuits in past cases.
Those who oppose the window provision or eliminating statute of limitations outright include the Catholic Church, the insurance lobby and other religious institutions who say they can’t afford to defend themselves against lawsuits that are old and difficult to prosecute.
“We still oppose the concept of a retroactive window for old abuse cases because of the difficulty in defending such old cases,” Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the News.
“Statute of limitations exist in the law to try to protect due process and serve justice. Over time, witnesses die, evidence is lost and memories fade,” he said, adding that they support a rival bill in New York that would raise the current age of statute of limitations by five years, to 28 years old.
Those who have seen laws change in their states say the Catholic Church’s opposition is baseless.
“None of that happened. No one’s closing their doors. No one’s being sued out of existence,” Florida attorney Michael Dolce told the Daily News. “It’s not going to happen in New York either because it’s a stupid excuse.”
In the eight states that have allowed a window provision, 2,921 people have filed a civil lawsuit that allow them to pursue old cases, none of which have proven to be false claims, according to Marci Hamilton’s statute of limitations reform research.
“We have not seen a flood of claims. False claims don’t happen,” Hamilton told the Daily News. “I think that the sky did not fall in a single state and I think that those are fantasy objections.”
In New York, disturbing cases have rallied public outrage over the issue. As many as 64 students say they were abused by at least 22 faculty members at the elite Horace Mann school in the Bronx. And on Long Island, foster father Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu was charged with abusing seven boys under his care.
Advocates for the Child Victims Act hope that this will be the year the bill, which now has 60 co-sponsors in the Assembly, gets passed.
“New York is among the very worst states in America for how it treats victims of childhood sexual abuse,” Markey said in a statement. “This is the year to change that deplorable situation.”
Out-of-state advocates, too, hope this year is different.
“Now that we know better, we should do better,” Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, whose wife was a victim of sex abuse when she was a child and who led reforms in his state, told the Daily News.
Utah now has now statute of limitations on civil cases after a bill passed in 2015.
“Hopefully New York will do better by our children as well.”