The State Supreme Court building on Griffing Avenue in Riverhead. File photo: Denise Civiletti

A new state law takes effect tomorrow that vastly expands the ability of child sex abuse victims to bring their abusers to justice.

The Child Victims Act, passed with overwhelming support in the State Legislature in January and signed by the governor on Feb. 14, extends the statute of limitations for adult survivors of child sexual abuse.

The new law also opens a one-year “window,” beginning tomorrow, when any adult survivor of child sexual abuse can file a civil lawsuit against their abuser — including public and private institutions — no matter how long ago the abuse took place.

Beginning tomorrow, survivors who were under the age of 23 on Feb. 14, 2019, will have until their 55th birthday to file a civil lawsuit against their abusers; until their 25th birthday to file criminal misdemeanor charges against their abusers; and until their 28th birthday to file criminal felony charges.

“This bill brings justice to people who were abused, and rights the wrongs that went unacknowledged and unpunished for too long. By signing this bill, we are saying nobody is above the law, that the cloak of authority is not impenetrable, and that if you violate the law, we will find out and you will be punished and justice will be done,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said when he signed the bill in February.

The new law changes the statute of limitations for prosecutions of sex crimes against children. A statute of limitations sets a limit on how long a certain type of action can be brought. When a victim or injured party is a child, the statute of limitations “tolls” or does not begin to run until the child reaches the legal age of majority — 18 in New York, for most purposes. The new law raises that age from 18 to 23 for the purpose of filing criminal charges or civil lawsuits by adult survivors of child sexual abuse.

The Catholic Church opposed previous versions of the bill. But the N.Y. State Catholic Conference, which represents the Catholic bishops of New York, withdrew its longstanding opposition to the bill in January once the draft legislation was amended to include public institutions as well as private ones like the church. The Catholic Church has paid out more than $3 billion in monetary awards and settlements in sexual abuse cases in the United States, according to the nonprofit group BishopAccountability.org, which tracks allegations, claims, settlements and awards involving the Catholic Church.

Boy Scouts of America, another institution rocked by sex abuse claims, was also a vocal opponent of legislation to make claims against abusers easier to prosecute.

New York State courts are bracing for what some have called an anticipated “tidal wave” of lawsuits during the one-year window provided by the new law.

Cuomo advocated for the legislation in the last legislative session. A prior version of the bill passed in the Assembly but was not brought to a vote in the Senate, which was then controlled by Republicans.

On Jan. 28, the bill passed in the Senate unanimously 63-0 and passed in the Assembly 142-3. It was signed into law by the governor two weeks later, with an effective date of six months after taking effect.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.