Under New York’s “Look-Back” Child Sex Abuse Survivors Can File Lawsuits After Statute of Limitation

On August 14, 2019, a New York state law took effect allowing adult survivors of child sex abuse to file lawsuits against their alleged abuser despite an expired statute of limitations. This look-back window was extended by Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this year in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing victims an additional year to file such claims. Survivors of child sex abuse now have until January 14, 2021 to file their claims.

Prior to the passage of  the look-back window law, New York citizens could either file a civil lawsuit or bring criminal charges against their alleged abusers until they were 23 years old. As an advocate who helped shape the new legislation told NPR last year, the look-back law “raises the age for criminal charges to age 28 and the age at which someone can bring a lawsuit until age 55.”Asked why it took so long for the law to get passed, the advocate, Ariel Zwang, attributed the delay to “powerful and entrenched interests” who have protected abusers, including “religious institutions” like the Catholic Church and “youth-serving organizations” like the Boy Scouts of America.

When Governor Cuomo extended the look-back window earlier this year, he said in a statement: “The Child Victims Act brought a long-needed pathway to justice for people who were abused, and helps right wrongs that went unacknowledged and unpunished for far too long and we cannot let this pandemic limit the ability for survivors to have their day in court… As New York continues to reopen and recover from a public health crisis, extending the look back window is the right thing to do and will help ensure that abusers and those who enabled them are held accountable.”

Among its other components, the law, called the Child Victims Act, abolishes the requirement for the filing of “a notice of claim for sexual offenses committed against a minor,” requires judicial training around crimes that involve child sex abuse, and gives the state’s Office of Court Administration the authority to create rules and regulations “for the timely adjudication of revived actions.” The New York Daily News reported in May that almost 2,000 child sex abuse lawsuits were filed in the wake of the CVA’s passage.

According to a July report by the Utica Observer-Dispatch more than 400 child sex abuse claims were filed in that month, and approximately 1,000 such cases had been filed since the end of May.

More information about New York’s look-back law is available via NPR, the New York Daily News, and the governor’s office.

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