After more than a decade of failed attempts, the State Senate has passed a bill extending the amount of time that childhood victims of sexual abuse can seek justice as adults. Matching legislation is expected to pass in the State Assembly tonight, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has vowed to sign the bill into law in the next few weeks.
"It has taken us a number of years to get here, but we got here because of you and your tenacity," the governor, who was previously accused of dragging his feet on the issue, told survivors and advocates prior to the vote. "The delay, the delay, don't take personally."
While the bill has repeatedly passed in the Assembly in recent years, the previously Republican-controlled State Senate had blocked the legislation from getting a vote. On Monday, the bill passed the Democratic-controlled chamber unanimously. "I have to ask the question, as I explain my vote: What took you so long?" wondered State Sen. Brad Hoylman, the bill's sponsor, through tears. "The Senate postponed a reckoning and buried this legislation."
Newly-elected State Senator Alexis Biaggi also gave emotional testimony in support of the bill, sharing that she had been a victim of sexual abuse. "The acts of terror that you have endured does not make you less human," said Sen. Biaggi.
New York currently has one of the most restrictive statute of limitations for childhood abuse claims, giving victims only five years to pursue litigation after they turn 18. The legislation would raise the age limit for criminal sexual assault cases to 28, and would give victims the chance to pursue civil litigation until they turn 55. Crucially, all victims will be provided a one-year look-back window to bring a civil suit, regardless of who their abusers are or when the abuse took place.
Andrew Willis, founder of the Stop Abuse Campaign, told Gothamist on Monday that passage of the Child Victims Act "makes New York a safer place for children, a safer place for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and a worse place for sex offenders."
Advocates believe that the changes will provide a lifeline to the estimated 43,000 children who are abused in New York each year, as research shows that a majority of childhood victims wait at least five years before telling anyone. Willis himself was raped at the age of 10, but says he was too racked with guilt to mention it to anyone until he was almost 50 years old. The teacher responsible was eventually accused of abusing more than 100 other students.
The legislation has long languished in Albany, due in part to fierce opposition from groups including the Boy Scouts, a leading ultra-Orthodox umbrella group known as Agudath, and, most vocally, the Catholic Church. Between 2007 and 2015, the Catholic Conference, led by Bishop Timothy Dolan, paid out more than $2.1 million to lobbyists to block the legislation. Catholic League President Bill Donohue has taunted those pushing for the bill as "losers," and once claimed that the act is "a vindictive bill pushed by lawyers and activists out to rape the Catholic Church."
While calling it a "fantastic day," Marci Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and leader of CHILD USA, said the bill's opponents should not be forgotten. "My message to the groups opposed to this is that they are responsible for the ongoing suffering of victims," Hamilton told Gothamist. "Shame on them."
Attempts to reach the Archdiocese of New York, the Boy Scouts, and Agudath were unsuccessful.