ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Lawsuits from victims of sexual abuse continue to pour in as New York’s Child Victims Act nears its filing deadline. The deadline to file suit was extended once due to the pandemic, but it’s officially closing on Saturday, August 14.
In August 2019, the state opened a unique one-year period where victims of child sexual assault could file claims against their abusers, regardless of how long ago it happened. Since more than 9,200 cases have been filed in New York.
“To have a chance to have a judge hear your case and say, ‘Yes, I believe you,’ is huge,” said Melanie Blow, the Executive Director of the Stop the Abuse Campaign. She says she was sexually abused as a kid, and knows the importance of having your story heard when you’re ready to tell it.
“We know that it takes sex abuse survivors, on average, 21 years before they can start talking about what happened to them. So that meant the majority of sex abuse victims were time-barred,” Blow said.
Before the Child Victims Act was passed, victims could only file a lawsuit before turning 23. The statute of limitations kept many people from seeking justice because they weren’t ready to come forward.
“It is the most painful thing in the world to hear, you know, when you are ready to tell your story…to hear the police or the court say, ‘There’s nothing we can do for you,’” Blow said.
This now two-year window allowed thousands of New Yorkers the chance to come forward when they actually felt ready. “It gives people the opportunity to really catch up with themselves, developmentally and emotionally, until they are ready to speak the truth about what has happened to them,” said Deb Rosen, the Executive Director of Bivona Child Advocacy Center.
With the window to file finally closing, experts say many will be blocked again from being able to file lawsuits going forward. To help address that issue, however, the Child Victims Act extended the statute of limitations so people can come forward any time before they turn 55.
“It really demonstrates the state’s commitment to justice and the state’s commitment to compensation and damages for peoples whose lives have been profoundly impacted by the trauma of childhood sexual abuse,” Rosen said.
And many say they are grateful there was a bigger window that let victims come forward. “It named and revealed a lot of predators in this community, in every community across the state, and it gave victims a chance to have their voices heard, to tell their story, to be believed,” Blow said.
Lawmakers now have their eyes set on the Adult Survivors Act, which was discussed during the most recent legislative session. The bill would create a one-year look-back window for cases of adult sexual abuse. While it passed in the senate, it didn’t get voted on in the Assembly.
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