New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law Thursday, ending a 13-year fight for sexual abuse survivors and hopefully the beginning of healing for many.
Governor Cuomo expressed his hope to sexual abuse survivors, victims’ advocates and lawmakers in attendance that this bill would begin reparations for decades of injustice.
"This is society's way of saying we are sorry," Governor Cuomo said.
"We are sorry for what happened to you. We are sorry that it took us so long to acknowledge what happened to you," he continued. "We are sorry that justice took so long. We are sorry to the other victims who, in the interim, were also violated because society was slow in acting."
The Child Victims Act allows child sex abuse survivors to file civil suit until their 55th birthday. This represents a massive increase from the previous age limit of 23. Now, felony charges can be pursued until they’re 28 years old, which is an increase from 23 as well. Survivors can also now file misdemeanors until they’re 25 years old, up from 20.
The also has provisions for victims to use a one-time “lookback” window. Marci Ann Hamilton, CEO of the think tank to prevent child neglect and abuse CHILD USA, referred to this as “a window of justice.” This window allows victims to file a lawsuit even when the statute of limitations has passed.
Catholic Church Opposition of Child Victims Act
The Catholic Church in New York has vehemently opposed of the Child Victims Act for more than a decade.
After the New York State Legislature passed the Child Victims Act in January, Cuomo held a press conference. Cuomo, who is Roman Catholic, indicated that the church was a significant obstacle for getting the bill passed for years.
“I believe it was the conservatives in the Senate who were threatened by the Catholic Church,” Cuomo said at the time.
In November 2018, Democrats took over the Republican majority Senate. The Senate passed the bill unanimously January 28.
"This year, with a new Senate, the bill came to the floor, it passed unanimously 63 to 0 because even the Republicans voted for it," Cuomo said.
Sexual Abuse Survivors Praise the Healing Power of Justice
Larry Nassar survivors were in attendance for the bill signing. Nassar is a former USA Gymnastics doctor and one of America’s most notorious sex abusers.
“Nothing is more important for the healing of sexual abuse survivors than seeing their abusers and the institutions that enable abuse brought to justice," victims Sarah Klein and Jessica Howard said.
Howard is a three-time rhythmic gymnast champion. She was also one of the first women to go on national television to expose Nassar. Klein is among the first known of Nassar’s victims.
A Lansing, Michigan judge sentenced the monstrous doctor to 40 to 175 years in prison in January 2018. During the trial, more than 150 women and girls testified that he sexually abused them over the past twenty years. A separate Michigan court sentenced him to 40 to 125 years. After serving a 60-year federal prison sentence for child pornography charges, Nassar will serve the Michigan sentences concurrently.
"There are two things that historically have forced institutions that protect sexual predators to be held accountable for their actions: media attention and civil litigation," a Nassar survivor attorney said in a statement to CNN.
"The Child Victims Act will allow thousands of New Yorkers who were abused as children to have access to the courts where they can seek justice," he continued.
The governor signed the Child Victims Act in the New York Daily News newsroom. The local newspaper covered the topic for more than a decade, giving a voice to survivors when the law refused to hear their cries.
"And at a time when some think that journalism has been reduced to no more than 280 characters in a tweet, the Daily News wrote 252 articles on the Child Victims Act,” Cuomo said. “Since 2009, the Daily News wrote 223 articles, 29 editorials, 975,000 characters on one issue.”