NY Daily News
By Teri Hatcher and Tom Andriola
March 30, 2020
As children, we were both abused by family members, people close to us, people we trusted. We both eventually spoke out as part of our own healing process and, more importantly, to protect other people, but it took us decades to disclose our abuse even to those closest to us.
The science of trauma is clear: It takes time for survivors to come forward and by the time we’re ready, many of us have lost the chance to pursue justice in the courts. That’s why the one year look-back window of the Child Victims Act is so important. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic just hit pause for thousands of survivors who thought they still had time to file a civil lawsuit.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Sen. Brad Hoylman have introduced legislation to extend the window another year. We need Albany lawmakers to pass it now.
The Child Victims Act extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse for criminal cases to 28 years old and for civil cases to 55 years old. Critically, the law includes a one-year window for time-barred survivors to file a civil lawsuit. Survivors can file a civil case against their abusers and any institutions that may have enabled the abuse, no matter how old they are or how long ago the abuse happened. However, the COVID-19 crisis has closed state courts and stalled any non-essential cases, effectively curtailing the window to seven months and slamming the doors to justice for survivors who have not yet taken action.
While the COVID-19 crisis has shifted resources and attention from issues important to survivors like us, it is not the only reason lawmakers need to extend the window. Since the window opened last August, over 1,800 survivors have already filed a lawsuit, but there are many more who may not be aware of the change in the law. Other than Safe Horizon, the largest victims services organization in the country, few others — with the exception of lawyers advertising for clients — have provided widely available public information to survivors in multiple languages. The window could close before many even understand their new rights.
Look-back windows are not unique; states across the country have instituted their own versions and many are multiple years long. California has a three-year window; New Jersey and North Carolina have two-year windows. Longer windows mean more survivors will be able to learn about their new rights and can make the often difficult decision to file a lawsuit.
We have similar stories, but because of where we were abused, we have vastly different rights when it comes to filing a case.
I (Teri) was abused in California by my uncle as a child. I never said anything until years later when I read about another girl he abused who committed suicide as a result. My testimony eventually helped put him in jail, where he died. But for others like me, they have until 2023 to file a case. Those three years means more control to make the right decision.
I (Tom) was abused in New York by my brother, and it was decades before I told a soul. Police finally caught him in an illegally parked car abusing another boy. I wasn’t able to testify at his sentencing hearing, but I submitted a letter to the judge about my experience. Having the opportunity to make my statement to the judge was the fulfillment I needed.
It was then that I knew that I would never file my own case against my brother, but for a survivor in a similar situation, their chance to file a lawsuit may have just disappeared because of COVID-19.
Frankly, even absent these issues and COVID-19, a one-year window is simply too short when we know that dealing with the shame and guilt associated with childhood sexual abuse can take decades. Making the decision to file a case is complex enough on its own without the added struggle of finding adequate legal representation, which can take even longer for survivors of family abuse because our abusers aren’t necessarily well insured or wealthy like institutions. A financial outcome at the end of a case can be much-needed compensation for the trauma a survivor has gone through.
But there are as many different reasons for seeking justice as there are survivors. We both came forward in order to prevent our abusers from being able to hurt others, and advocating for an extension of the window means more people can do the same.
New York lawmakers must include the extension of the Child Victims Act look-back window in any budget they pass.
Hatcher is an actress and survivor of childhood sexual assault. Andriola is an advocate and survivor of childhood sexual assault.