New law will provide expanded pathways to justice for survivors of sexual assault in New Jersey
TRENTON, N.J. – Today, Governor Phil Murphy signed S477 / A3648 into law, drastically reforming New Jersey’s civil statute of limitations for survivors of sexual assault, which has been referred to as “the broadest in the nation.”
“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the long fight for expanding access to justice for survivors of sexual assault,” said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “We know the severity of the trauma caused by sexual assault victimization requires a statewide and national reexamination of the policies and practices in place to serve survivors. This is a significant milestone for New Jersey.”
“We are endlessly appreciative of Senator Joseph Vitale, who has championed this critical reform through the halls of Trenton for over a decade,” Teffenhart continued. “We thank Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, who was our fiercest advocate in the Assembly, and we commend Governor Murphy for signing this critical reform into law. We also would be remiss to not thank the dozens of survivors who spent hours in the State House providing personal testimony to lawmakers, the victims and allies who put in dozens of emails and calls to legislators, who raised awareness of civil statute expansion as a critical issue for survivors. We especially thank Mark Crawford of the New Jersey chapter of Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests, Fred Marigliano of Road to Recovery, and Marci Hamilton of ChildUSA for their tireless advocacy, organizing, and expert testimony.”
The new bill signed into law today permanently expands the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault to seven years, up from the previous two. For adult survivors of child sexual abuse, the bill expands the civil statute either seven years past discovery (when a person who was assaulted links the trauma of their assault with harm done to their person) or until age 55, whichever is later.
The bill also creates a two-year window during which survivors of sexual assault who were previously denied justice due to the limited two-year civil statute can pursue civil remedies. The enactment date is December 1, 2019.
This bill signing comes on the heels of high-profile instances of sexual abuse in the Garden State. Late last year, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal established a statewide task force to investigate abuse by clergy. Earlier this year, N.J.’s five Roman Catholic diocese released a partial list of nearly 200 priests accused of sexual violence who practiced in N.J. At a press conference earlier this month, a list of over 50 former Boy Scout leaders from New Jersey who sexually abused children was also released.
According to nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman, “This is a huge victory for survivors who have been suffering in silence in New Jersey. To leave any victim, at any age, without recourse to seek the justice they deserve is devastating to the survivor and dangerous to future generations of children – anywhere.”
“This two-year window provides the opportunity for those who have been abused to have a voice — the opportunity to be compensated for the pain and suffering that too many have endured,” said Jeff.
N.J. now follows a national trend of states re-examining their statutes of limitations for sexual assault, as we gain a better understanding of how delayed reporting is a common response to trauma. New York’s Governor Cuomo signed similar legislation earlier this year. Prior to Gov. Murphy signing the bill, N.J. was a national outlier. 80 percent of states have made changes to their statutes of limitations for sexual assault since 2002, the year that the Boston Globe’s Spotlight reporting thrust child sexual abuse into the national spotlight – with today’s bill signing, N.J. now joins those ranks.