Jennifer Freeman’s Miami Herald Op-Ed
Are you a former New Yorker? Time’s almost up for childhood sex-abuse survivors to seek justice
We all know it — every year, thousands of New Yorkers move to Florida for its warm weather and leisurely lifestyle. Some stay — I’m a former New Yorker delighted to be living in the Sunshine State for the past three years. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, with thousands more choosing Florida as a new home.
Yet most former New Yorkers have no idea that our legal rights were dramatically expanded recently. In 2019, New York State enacted landmark legislation that makes it possible to seek justice for decades-old child sex-abuse crimes — the Child Victims Act (CVA). For a short time, this new law suspends the statute of limitations for child sex-abuse claims and provides a unique opportunity for survivors of such abuse, which happened in New York, to seek accountability and finality.
But the time to take action is almost up. The CVA provides a one-time, two-year window for survivors to sue for abuse regardless of when the abuse occurred. Survivors have until early August 2021 to seek justice against institutions such as the Catholic Church, New York medical institutions, public and private schools, foster-care providers, athletic organizations, religious groups, summer camps and any other entity, as well as individuals who perpetrated or enabled these heinous crimes.
This law doesn’t just apply to current New York residents, it extends to anyone who was ever abused in New York, no matter how long ago and regardless of where they live now. If you grew up in New York State and suffered abuse at the hands of a clergy member, youth director, doctor, teacher, coach, family member or anyone else, this law applies to you. Over the past year, following New York’s lead, several states have reformed their statutes of limitation; sadly, Florida is not among them — but we’re working on it.
The wrongdoers, insurance companies, and others have used every tool at their disposal to stop these lawsuits from moving ahead. They’ve tried to discredit and intimidate survivors and the public. They’ve fought statutory reform for years. They’ve covered up evidence — and even declared bankruptcy. Thanks to the CVA, these tactics can no longer hide the truth. This is the opportunity to finally hold these powerful organizations and individuals — who were often aware of the abuse ,but looked the other way — liable and to provide restitution and reparations.
It’s not easy to bring a lawsuit, especially when it involves unearthing something so private and painful, long pushed into dark corners. Many survivors are reluctant to pursue their claims and have long made peace with leaving the past in the past.
I get that. Litigating won’t erase the pain and suffering, allow survivors to confront deceased perpetrators or restore lost time. Yet the CVA opens up a soon-to-disappear path forward to hold abusers or institutions accountable and to shift the responsibility for, and cost of, the abuse from the thin shoulders of a young child onto the backs of abusers and their enablers.
Many survivors have felt empowered now that they can do something about the horrors of their childhood. They’ve inspired others to seek justice. Survivors who don’t want to be identified can file claims anonymously, under a pseudonym.
Survivors have the chance to stand up, take action and change the way child sex abuse is viewed, understood and addressed. Survivors have the chance to identify hidden predators. Survivors have the chance to make sure that children never face these unspeakable dangers again.
Even if the ultimate choice is to do nothing, survivors have a right and a choice to decide whether and how to remedy this injustice. But they must heed the call before it’s too late.
Jennifer Freeman is an attorney advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse based in North Palm Beach.
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