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The Passage and Enactment of the Child Victims Act

February 21, 2019 • Posted By • News

On February 14, 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act, fulfilling a key promise of his 2019 Justice Agenda. This legislation had been proposed in Albany for more than a decade. With the enactment of the Child Victims Act, survivors of child sex abuse may seek to hold the perpetrators of the crime accountable with criminal or civil cases.   


The Child Victims Act extends the regular statute of limitations for cases involving child sex abuse. Before the Child Victims Act was signed, criminal and civil statutes of limitations in cases of child sex abuse expired when the victim turned 23 years old. The law will now allow victims to start a civil lawsuit against their abusers or an institution until they reach the age of 55. Criminal charges can be brought forward until the victim turns 28 years old for felony offenses, and until the victim turns 25 years old for misdemeanors. Under the Child Victims Act it does not matter when the crime occurred; what matters is the current age of the victim when the criminal or civil child sex abuse case is brought forward.


Extending the statute of limitations was not the only change implemented by the Child Victims Act. The legislation eliminated the need to file a notice of claim for sexual offenses committed against a minor. Additionally, the Child Victims Acts created a one-year look-back revival period that will allow victims to bring civil claims against their abuser or an institution regardless of the victim’s current age. Private and Public institutions will be subject to litigation during the one-year period. The revival period will not start until August 2019. The legislation included a six-month gap between the signing of the bill and the one-year revival period, to allow victims to meet with attorneys and prepare their cases. The Child Victims Act also authorized the Office of Court Administration to promulgate rules and regulations for the timely adjudication of revived actions.


The passage of the Child Victims Act is not the last step in attaining justice for the survivors and accountability for the perpetrators of the crime. Future legislation could be proposed to build on the Child Victims Act. In The New York Law Journal, “Cuomo Signs Bill to Open Window for Lawsuits Over Child Sex Abuse” February 15, 2019, p. 8, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman was quoted as saying he would consider introducing a bill to extend the one-year look-back window for another year. Advocates believe that lawmakers should consider raising the statute of limitations to an even higher age. The New York Law Journal article also mentions that a proposal has been put forth in the New York Senate to create a public fund to compensate victims of child sex abuse whose abusers may be unavailable for litigation or do not have the means to settle a civil claim.


Formerly, similar bills had been vigorously opposed by the Roman Catholic bishops and other institutions. These bills previously had been stymied by the Republican controlled State Senate. However, with Democrats now controlling the legislature in Albany, passage and enactment of the bill should come as no surprise to anyone monitoring such proposed legislation over the past decade.   


By Joseph A. French, with the assistance of Michelle Yepes, a 3L at St. John’s University School of Law.