According to WCBS 880, New Jersey will soon be joining New York and several other states in expanding the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases, with Gov. Phil Murphy set to sign a new law in the coming days.
Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says the impact the law will have cannot be overstated.
“This will finally allow survivors in New Jersey more time to come forward and hold their perpetrators accountable for the crimes that they committed,” she said.
Murphy is expected to sign the bill on Monday. It would give sexual abuse survivors much more time to bring civil cases against their alleged abusers and the organizations that employed them.
“The two-year civil statute of limitations has been insufficient and not responsive to the trauma of this particular crime,” Teffenhart said.
The bill gives victims seven years to file suit after they’ve come to terms with the effects of the abuse they’ve suffered.
Similar to New York’s law, it also gives any victim a two-year window to file suit regardless of when the abuse happened.
It’s expected to go into effect on Dec. 1.
The bill’s lead sponsor, State Sen. Joe Vitale, told WCBS 880’s Steve Burns that he was approached in 1999 by someone recounting childhood abuse by a priest.
“I was just floored by it and certainly upset by it. I began to work on ways in which to change the law,” he said.
It was a slow process over the next two decades.
“We didn’t have a lot of support,” Vitale said. “Some of my colleagues didn’t understand why we would do this or that we had a governor who would not sign the bills.”
Everything changed last year, he says, when Pennsylvania released its report listing several hundred clergy members who had been credibly accused of abuse.
“It was sort of an awakening by many of my colleagues,” Vitale said.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is working on a report similar to Pennsylvania’s.
Vitale says survivors can never get closure, but at least they can have access to the justice system.
“It gives them a sense of accountability and proof that this actually did happen to them,” he said.
According to nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman, “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.”
At least one in 10 children will experience child sexual abuse before age 18, but most will either delay reporting for months or years, if they come forward at all. New York had a problem and fixed it. The New York Child Victims Act gives survivors of sexual abuse a limited one-year window beginning Aug. 14, 2019 to file a civil claim and seek justice.
“The healing process begins as soon as one speaks about the tragedy that happened to them. This one-year window in New York provides the opportunity for those who have suffered in silence to have a voice — the opportunity to be compensated for the pain and suffering that too many have endured,” said Jeff.