Governor Andrew Cuomo alleviated some advocate concerns on Thursday by introducing a Senate bill that would give victims of child abuse a larger window of time to seek justice. The program bill could still face an uphill battle in the Senate, which has been historically hostile towards efforts to expand the statute of limitations for sex abuse victims. But advocates hope the governor's end-of-session move could push its hand.
Research shows that a majority of childhood victims wait at least five years before speaking. Under current law, most New York victims have only five years after they turn 18 to bring civil or criminal charges against their abusers—thanks to statute of limitations laws that are more prohibitive than most U.S. states, according to the victim abuse network Safe Horizon.
Cuomo's bill, which mirrors a law passed 139-7 this session in the State Assembly, would extend the statute of limitations to age 28 for victims of felony criminal cases, and age 50 for civil cases. The bill would also create a one-time, one-year "look back" window, in which victims of any age would be permitted to bring civil suits against individuals or institutions.
Cuomo indicated months ago that he would prioritize heightened protections, but advocates noted his silence on the issue in recent weeks, as time ran out in this legislative session.
"This is about justice and I urge this measure to be passed before the end of session and allow these victims the ability to hold their abusers accountable—something they've wrongly been denied for far too long," Cuomo said Thursday.
"All advocates are grateful that the Governor has introduced a bill," stated Andrew Willis, a childhood survivor of rape and the founder of the Stop Abuse Campaign. "It's the first stage of passing a bill. We were right to have faith in him. Now we need the Governor to use his significant influence to get the bill passed. Passing the bill is what will save 43,000 New York children from being sexually abused every year."
The Daily News, which first reported on the legislation, cites an anonymous Cuomo aide who suggested the one-year window could be changed before signing to appease concerns about "frivolous" lawsuits. The Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference has its own version of a child victims act, which would require a five-person panel to review each case brought in the one-year "look back" window.
The Village Voice recently reported that both the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church have both vocally—and financially—opposed the bill. Those institutions have said they're concerned the look back window will lead to false claims that clog up the courts and lead to costly settlements.
Proponents of the bill in its current form say altering the one-year window provision could significantly limit protections for victims over the age of 23. A spokeswoman for Safe Horizon told Gothamist that the advocacy group wants Cuomo's bill to pass as-is.
"We can't not have a window," said Manhattan Senator Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat. "That's what all the groups and survivors have been saying. If we only do [the law] prospectively, everyone who has been harmed or abused in the past has no recourse."
Albany's current session ends on June 21st. "There are a number of similar proposals on this issue and they remain under review," Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif told the Daily News.
"We've been wanting Cuomo to take a more public role, and by submitting this he's saying, 'This is the bill I support,'" Rosenthal said. "We're counting on him to not only put that in, but to actually work hard behind the scenes to actually put this into law."
"There are three days left, but a lot happens at the very end in Albany," she added. "I think there are enough votes for it in the Senate, based on private conversations with Senate Democrats and Republicans. It just needs to come to the floor, and that's where [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan and Cuomo are key."
NYC Republican Senators Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza did not immediately respond to a request for comment.