In New York, the longstanding statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to file a civil lawsuit begins to run when the victim turns 18 and usually ranges from one to five years. For criminal lawsuits, the statute of limitations usually starts to run when the victim turns 18 and lasts for five years for felony sexual offenses and two years for misdemeanors. Victims can initiate both a civil and a criminal lawsuit against both the abusers and the institutions that enabled the abuse solely within those time frames.
Though, many studies show that victims usually do not speak out about their abuse until later in life, often waiting decades to reveal what happened to them. This delay in reporting limits reparations and justice for victims, as the statutes of limitations often runs out before child sexual abuse survivors come forward.
Remaining Window to File a Claim in New York
Why do victims wait to come forward about their sexual abuse?
State legislators throughout the country recognize the prohibitive impact that statutes of limitations have on survivors’ reasonable opportunities to press charges or file civil lawsuits. Now, many states have enacted legislation to help limit the harmful effects of relevant laws on child sexual abuse victims’ ability to seek justice.
What is the New York Child Victims Act?
In January 2019, New York legislators passed the New York Child Victims Act. This revolutionary Act amends the state’s statute of limitations to allow child sex abuse victims more time to come forward and seek the justice they deserve against both their abuser and the compliant institutions that enabled the abuse.
Now, a survivor can bring a criminal case against the abuser until the victim turns 28 years old. The same requirements apply for bringing the charges, meaning that you as an individual cannot file a criminal claim. Instead, you can report the abuse to the police or the district attorney, and they can bring the criminal charges against your abuser on your behalf. In criminal cases, you are not a party to the lawsuit. So, while you may not need a lawyer to handle the litigation process, it’s always beneficial to have an expert on your side to ensure you make the proper claims to lead to appropriate charging and the justice you deserve.
For civil cases, survivors can initiate a claim against their abuser or a third party (e.g., church, school, the Boy Scouts, or other organization) liable for allowing the abuse to happen until the victim turns 55 years old. In short, victims can still file a case even if the abuse occurred decades ago. In civil lawsuits, you are a party to the case, meaning that a child sexual abuse lawyer can help you pursue the abuser and the organization to receive fair compensation for the damages you suffered.
It’s important to note that the New York Child Victims Act also allows for previously time-barred actions for child sex abuse to be brought within a specific time period, known as a “lookback window.” This window started on August 14th, 2019. Though lawmakers previously determined an end date of August 13th, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the one-year “lookback” window until August 14th, 2021. Governor Andrew Cuomo implemented this extension in light of the prohibitive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on litigation.
This extension means that no matter how old you are or how long ago the abuse happened, New York child sexual abuse victims of any age can still file a claim but only until August 14th, 2021.You can access the full text of the New York Child Victims Act (Senate Bill S2440) here: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/S2440
What constitutes child sex abuse - Do I have a valid claim?
Child sexual abuse can happen to anyone, and it takes many forms. A common misconception is that it’s rare, mainly perpetrated against girls by male strangers. The stark reality is that child sexual abuse is common to both males and females. In most cases, the abuser knows the victim, typically from a close relationship as a family member, priest or other clergy members, teacher, or coach. Child sexual abuse happens in both small and large communities, across all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.
There are many definitions of child sexual abuse, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines child sexual abuse as “any completed or attempted (non-completed) sexual act, sexual contact with, or exploitation (i.e., noncontact sexual interaction) of a child by a caregiver.” Examples of sexual contact can include:
- Fondling (sexual touching of a child’s body parts, whether clothed or unclothed)
- Using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child (e.g., in the child’s mouth, anus, or vagina)
- Forcing a child to participate in sexual activities, including oral or penetrative sex
- Making a child undress
- Making a child touch the abuser or someone else
- Exposing oneself to a child
- Masturbating in front of a child
- Forcing a child to masturbate
- Exposing a child to sexual acts
- Creating or having child pornography (taking sexually explicit photographs or videos of a child)
- Sending sexually explicit or suggestive messages to a child through text message or the internet
- Sex trafficking
- Intentional female genital mutilation and its facilitation by knowingly consenting to it as a parent or guardian
- Any other sexual activity that is harmful to a child’s emotional, mental, or physical wellbeing
Regardless of who abused the victim and whether the contact was physical or nonphysical, the sexual assault or abuse can be punishable by law. Facts you must be able to prove under New York law are:
- The abuse took place when you were under the age of 18.
- The abuse occurred in New York state.
- You have not received legal compensation for the alleged offense.
These factors are crucial in determining whether you have a valid case. Right now is a unique time to substantiate a claim, even if your abuse happened decades ago. You do not have to suffer alone in silence. You can get justice to support your continued healing and prevent any future abuse by your abuser.
What does the NY Child Victims Act mean for me if I’m a survivor?
The changes made by the Child Victims Act make it easier for New York survivors to seek justice and damages. No one can take away the pain you’ve endured from your abuse, but you can receive monetary compensation to help pay for therapy, psychiatric treatment, or medications to help you continue healing.
A child sex abuse attorney can help you get the treatment and treatment you may need to recover and be a part of your ongoing support system. Importantly, they can also initiate your civil claim to receive the compensation you deserve to cover treatment costs.
Providing victims with more time to start both criminal and civil cases in New York allows those who previously feared coming forward to have a second chance at justice. Now, victims can also go after the institutions that allowed the abuse to occur. The changes to these laws recognize how difficult it is for child sexual abuse survivors to speak out about their abuse and thereby provide them with an alternative avenue to pursue litigation against those who wronged them. Doing so can have incredible healing power for those abused, as attaining justice usually helps to empower survivors.
It’s essential to hold abusers and the organizations that allow abuse accountable for their wrongful actions, not only for the victims’ healing but for those who can become potential victims. Survivors can use their voices to bring awareness to the abuse and expose the abusers to prevent future wrongdoing. Child sexual abuse is never the child’s fault, and the trauma that follows is equally not shameful. The only person or people that benefit from a survivors’ unwarranted shame and secrecy are the abusers and the institutions that cover up the abuse.
The horrifying acts that happen to child sexual abuse victims are traumatizing and often difficult to cope with, making it reasonable for most survivors to not address their abuse until many years later. Long-term effects of child sexual abuse include:
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Drug addiction and other substance abuse issues
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Panic attacks
Due to their resulting trauma, many victims do not pursue claims for damages before the statute of limitations has tolled. Now, those who are ready – emotionally and otherwise – can initiate a claim. Long-term effects of child sex abuse help demonstrate a survivor’s right to financial compensation to care for their ongoing emotional, mental, and physical needs. Damages that victims can receive compensation for include:
- Pain and suffering from the abuse
- Medical expenses related to the abuse (e.g., therapy, psychiatric treatment, medication, etc.)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Costs for relocation
- Lost wages
- Financial support
- Continued mental health counseling
- Rehabilitation costs
- Loss of love and companionship
- Court and attorneys’ fees
After the window to seek civil action for those abused decades ago ends on August 14th, 2021, the New York Child Victims Act allows survivors to file a claim until they’re 55 years old.
Who can you sue via the New York Child Victims Act?
Survivors can bring claims under the New York Child Victims Act against both private and public institutions. Many organizations enabled and were complicit in child sexual abuse, including the Boy Scouts and Roman Catholic Churches. These institutions often covered up abuse by sending known abusers to other sectors of their organizations. This level of cover-ups led to the abuse of hundreds of thousands of children, and all involved should be accountable.
Perpetrators can be anyone from all cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, genders, age ranges, or organizations. Most victims know their abusers. Examples of locations where abuse can happen are:
- Youth groups (e.g., Boy Scouts youth group leaders)
- Sports leagues (e.g., coaches)
- Schools (e.g., teachers or fellow students)
- Daycares (e.g., daycare employees and other children)
- Sleepaway and day camps (e.g., camp counselors and other employees)
- Foster care (e.g., foster parents)
You can charge both individuals for the act of abuse and private and public institutions for failing to protect you from the abuse. You can also charge individuals who knew about the abuse and failed to report it. People who know about child sexual abuse must report the abuse to a hotline, law enforcement agency, or superiors. If a person who knows about the abuse fails to report it as required, they can be criminally charged with a misdemeanor, resulting in fines, jail time, or both.
Additionally, New York recognizes specific individuals and professions specially equipped to handle the critical role of being a mandated reporter of child abuse. These individuals have a legal duty to report suspected abuse to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) and the local department of social services’ Child Protective Services (CPS). mandated reporters include:
- Registered nurses
- Social workers
- Licensed therapists and counselors
- Other mental health professionals
- School officials, including:
- Guidance counselors
- Social workers
- School Psychologists
- Administrators or other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificates
- Directors of children’s camps, including:
- Overnight camps
- Summer day camp
- Traveling summer day camp
- Daycare workers
- School-age child care workers
- Providers for family or group family daycare centers
- Employees or volunteers in residential care facilities for children
- Other child care or foster care workers
- Substance abuse counselors
- Peace officers
- Police officers
- Other law enforcement officials
Often, professionals, such as doctors or counselors, can recognize if someone is sexually abusing a child, making them consequential in holding child sex abuse perpetrators accountable and protecting children from continued abuse. The law requires mandated reporters to know and recognize indicators of child sexual abuse, including:
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STIs)
- Injuries to or around the genital area
- Pain and difficulty standing or walking
- Engaging in sexually suggestive, inappropriate, or promiscuous behavior or verbalization
- Expressing knowledge of sexual relations
- Sexually victimizing other children
- Anxiety or depression
- Signs of being distraught when left alone with certain individuals
- Sleep issues
- Spending an excessive amount of time alone
- Avoiding removing clothes to bathe
- Change in eating habits
- Self-harming behavior
Even non-professionals who have daily contact with a child should be aware of the signs of sexual abuse. These signs are common in child sex abuse victims, and if you’ve experienced them, you can receive compensation for the therapy and treatment you need to help overcome the long-term effects of your trauma.
What are the penalties my abuser can face?
Filing criminal charges yields different results than filing a civil lawsuit. In criminal cases, you play a role in providing necessary details about what happened to law enforcement and the district attorney. Your report helps build a case and determine charges brought against your abuser and anyone who enabled the abuse. Since federal law does not apply to child sexual abuse cases, except in limited circumstances, the state where the abuse happened will likely dictate the laws for your case, as that state will have what’s called jurisdiction over the perpetrator and the criminal matter.
Per Section 70.07 of the New York Penal Code, your abuser can face various penalties depending on the type of offense they’re convicted for, including:
- Class A-II or class B felony: For a class A-II or class B felony offense, and a predicate conviction (or earlier offense used to enhance a sentence for a later conviction) of a class A-II, class B, or class C felony offense, the court can sentence the abuser for “an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment, the maximum term of which shall be life and the minimum period of which shall be at least fifteen years and no more than twenty-five years.”
- Class C felony: If the court convicts an abuser of sexual assault of a child classified as “a class C felony offense, and the predicate conviction for such sexual assault against a child is for a class A-II, class B or class C felony offense,” the court can sentence the abuser to a determinate prison sentence, “the term of which must be at least twelve years and must not exceed thirty years.”
- Class B felony, with a predicate conviction of a class D or class E felony: For convictions of sexual assault of a child classified as a class B felony, with one of the mentioned predicate convictions, the court can sentence the abuser to a term of at least twelve years and must not exceed thirty years.
- Class C felony, with a predicate conviction of a class D or class E felony: Convictions of sexual assault of a child for a class C felony offense, with one of the mentioned predicate convictions, can yield a sentence of at least ten years but not more than twenty-five years.
- Class D felony, with a predicate conviction for a felony offense: If the court convicts the abuser of sexual assault of a child for a class D felony offense, with a predicate felony conviction, sentencing for a prison term can be for at least five years but cannot exceed fifteen years.
- Class E felony, with a predicate conviction of a felony offense: Conviction of sexual assault of a child for a class E felony offense, with a predicate felony conviction, can be punishable by the court with a sentence for a prison term of at least four years but no more than twelve years.
Any person who failed to fulfill an obligation to report suspected child sexual abuse and those people or entities who enabled the abuse can also face criminal charges. The idea of testifying to support the criminal charges against your abuser or other individuals may seem overwhelming, frightening, or intimidating, but doing so can often help maximize their punishment.
You have rights as a victim, regardless of whether you testify, and are entitled to protection throughout the criminal process. There are resources available to support you, including trained advocates, state crime victim compensation programs, and legal support.
The purpose of a civil suit is for the child sexual abuse victim to receive compensation to help pay for the damages resulting from the abuse and any ongoing trauma. You can use the compensation to cover any medical expenses and rehabilitation costs for physical injuries stemming from your abuse, or mental health counseling, therapy, psychiatric treatment, and medication costs resulting from your mental and emotional suffering.
Sometimes, child sexual abuse survivors need to relocate to physically distance themselves from their abuser for reasons of safety or wellbeing. In that instance, you can request fair compensation to help ease the burden of your relocation costs. If you lost your job or were unable to work due to your ongoing trauma, you can be compensated for lost wages and receive further financial support.
Lastly, you may be entitled to receive compensation for loss of enjoyment of life or loss of love and companionship resulting from your trauma and continued recovery.
How long after my abuse do I have to file in New York - Is it too late for me to file a lawsuit?
Based on New York child sex abuse survivors’ new eligibility requirements, you still have time to file your claim. You must file your claim before August 14th, 2021, if you’re older than 55 years old and the abuse was previously time-barred by the statute of limitations.
The New York Child Victims Act allows victims to file criminal charges within the following time limits:
- For felony offenses, if you were under 18 when the abuse occurred, the abuse happened in New York, and you have not yet received legal compensation for the alleged abuse, you can press criminal charges until you are 28 years old.
- For misdemeanor offenses, you can press criminal charges until you are 25 years old.
Concerning criminal charges, there’s generally no time limit to report the abuse if the victim was under 11 years of age at the time it occurred.
For civil cases, you can file a claim until you are 55 years old. Again, the New York Child Victims Act has a “lookback window” currently in place. This window provides New York child sex abuse survivors of any age to file a claim regardless of how long ago the abuse happened.
How do I file a claim as a survivor of child sex abuse in New York?
One of the most important steps in filing a claim for child sex abuse in New York is ensuring that you can prove all the elements described in this article. Hiring a law firm with experience handling child sexual abuse lawsuits is vital to help you receive a satisfactory outcome. Your child sex abuse lawyer can help you pursue criminal charges and file a civil claim to seek retribution against your abuser.
Herman Law has extensive experience providing compassionate, client-focused advocacy to its clients. At no cost to you, contact Herman Law for a free consultation to determine your rights and receive the justice you deserve.
How does Herman Law provide a voice for victims?
At Herman Law, we empower victims by advocating for their rights and giving them a voice. Herman Law is unique in that we specialize in sex abuse cases only. We exclusively represent victims in civil sexual abuse cases, providing us with focused, tailored expertise on the topic. We understand the sensitive nature of these matters, along with the nuances of relevant laws. We approach every case with compassionate advocacy and have helped over 1,000 victims in civil sexual abuse cases receive over $200 million in verdicts and settlements.
The New York Child Victims Act has created New York child sex abuse victims’ opportunity to pursue justice. Victims must take advantage of this occasion to file their claim before time runs out for those older than 55 on August 14th, 2021.
Herman Law takes proactive, strategic, effective, efficient, and vigorous steps to ensure that our clients find justice for the abuse they’ve endured. Throughout the legal process, we guide our clients and ensure we have the evidence we need by using our own investigative team, knowledgeable about what we need to solve sexual abuse cases.
We understand the brave, strong, and courageous people we represent need assistance in receiving therapy, reporting the abuse to law enforcement, and building a support system. We are with our clients every step of the way, providing them with a compassionate and healing-focused approach. Regardless of how old you are or how long ago your abuse happened, you can still file a claim today, but not for much longer. Contact us now to learn about your options.