New York grants a reprieve for victims of child sexual abuse

A SURVIVOR of child sexual abuse in New York state previously had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim against his or her abuser. It takes time to reckon with such malevolence, and to feel comfortable talking about the abuse, never mind speaking to police or a lawyer. A third of child sex-abuse victims never disclose that they have been abused. If they do, the average age of victims when they tell their stories is 52, usually too late to file criminal charges or to file a civil claim.

On August 14th, six months after Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, signed the Child Victims Act into law, the bill went into effect. The law changes the statute of limitations for prosecuting and filing civil suits against abusers—and the institutions who shield them. Survivors now have until the age of 28 to press criminal charges and have until the age of 55 to file a civil suit. The new law also includes a one-year window when people can file lawsuits and seek damages for the pain they suffered, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

Thousands of New Yorkers are expected to sue their alleged abusers and the institutions that failed to protect them. James Marsh runs a small law firm that specialises in sexual-abuse cases. He has over 500 clients, most of them middle-aged or older. Other lawyers have even more. Mr Marsh filed at least 17 suits the first day the window opened. In anticipation of the onslaught of cases, New York’s courts have been staffing up. The suits will be handled by 45 designated, specially-trained judges. The one-year temporary filing period, which allows victims to bring cases once beyond the state’s statutes of limitations, may also allow for lawsuits against Jeffrey Epstein, the financier accused of abusing girls at his New York home, among other places. Despite his death, civil lawsuits could still proceed against the estate.


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