what is a lookback window

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You may have seen the phrase “lookback window” popping up in articles and discussions about the changing sexual assault laws in New York. 

With the introduction of the Child Victims Act in 2019, the Victims of Gender-Motivated Protection Law, and the Adult Survivors Act, “lookback window” has become a commonplace term – but what exactly is a lookback window?

Well, you’re in good company if you don’t know, because lookback windows are actually a pretty new and unprecedented development in US law.

What is a Lookback Window in US Law?

A lookback window is a period of time in which the statute of limitations for a particular crime no longer apply. 

The statute of limitations (plural, statutes of limitations) for a crime is the length of time in which criminal or civil action can take place against it.

“Criminal action” means the government enforcing a punishment on you, like prison time or fines. “Civil action” means a lawsuit against an individual

As an example, the statute of limitations for theft in New York is 5 years at the longest, depending on the severity of the theft. 

So that means that if someone stole and was not caught for 5 years, they can no longer be charged for that crime.

Statutes of limitations exist for many crimes. They also exist in civil law.

In civil law, statutes of limitations generally apply to the length of time in which a victim of a crime can file a lawsuit against the person who committed the crime or an institution that enabled said crime.

How the Child Victims Act Created Lookback Windows

The Child Victims Act sought to change one of these statutes. Before it passed in 2019, the statue of limitations for sexual assault against minors was incredibly restrictive. 

As stated in CNN’s coverage of the Child Victims Act in July 2019, “cases of child sex abuse could not be prosecuted more than five years after they occurred, and civil lawsuits had to be  brought within three years after the victim’s 18th birthday.”

So if a victim were abused when they were 14, they would have 7 years, or until they turn 21, to file a lawsuit against their assailant. This may seem like a long time, but in practice, it is actually an incredibly short amount of time. 

Victims often take years or even decades to cope with the trauma of such events.

The Child Victims Act extended the statute of limitations on these crimes significantly. Now, victims can pursue felony charges until they turn 28 and they can file a lawsuit at any time before they turn 55.

These changes are amazing, and give victims a better chance at justice, but what about all of the victims who already lost the ability to get justice because the statute of limitation ran out?

The Child Victims Act solved this issue by creating a lookback window, during which all statutes of limitations for sex crimes against children were temporarily removed. During this window, anyone who was ever a victim in New York had the opportunity to file a civil lawsuit. 

Thousands of victims took advantage of this lookback window.

Child Victims Act Statute of Limitations

How You can take Advantage of a New Lookback Window

Now, a new lookback window is about to begin. The Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law changed the statute of limitations for gender-motivated crimes of violence (which includes sexual assault). In similar fashion to the Child Victims Act, the VGMVPL created a lookback window that begins on March 1, 2023.

For one year, victims of gender-motivated crimes of violence can file a civil lawsuit regardless of any previous statutes of limitations.

Which means that if you were ever victimized in this way, this may be your only chance at getting justice.

The experienced sexual assault attorneys at Merson Law PLLC have helped many clients during the Child Victims Act’s lookback window, and now we’re hoping to help you get justice in a similar way. We’ll help you get financial compensation for your suffering.

Contact our Manhattan office by filling out the contact form on this page or by calling the number above.

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