The New York Times
By Elizabeth Harris
December 6, 2017
Can the national outpouring of sexual abuse claims help move recalcitrant mountains in Albany?
For 11 years, activists and lawmakers in New York have tried and failed to pass the Child Victims Act, which would expand the legal recourse available to people who say they were sexually abused as children, who now face some of the most restrictive laws in the country. As the national conversation bursts with a reckoning over sexual misconduct, activists hope that this year they will succeed and are advancing a new, more aggressive strategy to pass the bill.
“Now is the time,” said Bridie Farrell, a competitive speed skater who was abused by an older teammate and has been pushing the bill in Albany for years. “The people who are speaking up are famous people, with fortunes and legal teams and PR teams,” she said. And yet for years, she continued, “they were too scared to talk. So how do you expect a child to do it?”
Under New York State law, victims of childhood sexual abuse have until they are 21 to sue the institution where the abuse took place, like a church or a school, and until 23 to sue their attacker. Criminal charges, with the exception of rape, must be filed before a survivor turns 23. Activists say New York, along with a handful of other states like Alabama and Michigan, has some of the least victim-friendly laws in the country.
The Child Victims Act would allow survivors to sue until they turn 50 and let criminal charges be filed until they are 28. It would also create a one-year window during which cases from any time could proceed in court.
Some two dozen advocacy organizations and survivor groups are coordinating their efforts this year with the twin goals of convincing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to put the Child Victims Act in the budget and creating the political space for it to succeed. A member of the coalition, Child USA, a nonprofit group led by Marci Hamilton, a legal expert in child sex abuse cases, has hired the strategic communications firm SKDKnickerbocker to coordinate the campaign. SKD has enjoyed a close relationship with Mr. Cuomo’s office, and oversaw the successful effort in 2011 to legalize gay marriage in the state.
The measure, which has been spearheaded by the victim organization Safe Horizon for over a decade, has faced consistent opposition from the Catholic church and other groups that serve young people. Dennis Poust, the director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, said that while the state’s bishops support forward-looking legislation to raise the statute of limitations, they opposed the window that might open the church up to decades worth of claims.