In January, New York State passed the Child Victims Act (CVA), which opened up New York’s previously strict criminal and civil statute of limitations on child sexual assault allegations. Instead of the criminal statute beginning when a person is 18 and ending when a person turns 23, the statute now begins when a person turns 23 and ends when they turn 28. For the civil statute of limitations, victims had to file before the age of 23. Now, the statute for any child sexual assault after February 14, 1996 can file a lawsuit before the age of 55. This is just one of many differences to come from the new legislation.
On June 25, at the BorgWarner Room of the Tompkins County Public Library, the Zero Abuse Project and NYS Assembly member Barbara Lifton sponsored an event to teach people about the law's new parameters. Lifton was hopeful that local organizations who deal with sexual assault victims would be able to take this information and help their clients. The seminar did reveal that a window for most if not all child sexual assault cases to be opened will come up later this summer.
Starting on August 16 of this year and closing on August 13, 2020, for any victim of child sexual assault in New York State, regardless of age, will be able to file a civil lawsuit against either an abuser or an institution which covered for an abuser. This window of opportunity is allowing anyone to file a civil case against an abuser regardless of whether or not the statute of limitations has run out.
Jeff Dion, the CEO of the Zero Abuse Project, led a presentation detailing several facts about the new Child Victims Act. He spoke about how the culture of negligence within some institutions has to end and should be replaced by one of disclosure.
“If it happens outside the home, abuse is most likely to be perpetrated by someone that the child knows and trusts,” Dion said. “So, a predator, it's hard for them to molest a child without help. They get that help from the institutions that hire them as employees and bring them on as volunteers. That's why we have to hold the institutions accountable, because they can't turn a blind eye to the fact that there are predators that are intentionally trying to infiltrate their organization for the purpose of getting access to kids to sexually abuse, though. And so that's why everybody has to be vigilant and everybody has to be aware.”
The new law is designed to hold institutions accountable for secrecy; they could be found liable for any knowledge that an employee or volunteer committed sexual acts against children. Bridie Farrell, the founder of the non-profit NY Loves Kids, is a child sexual assault survivor. Farrell was a nationally ranked speed skater by the age of 13. At age 15, she was sexually abused by speed skating teammate and Olympic silver medalist, Andy Gabel, age 33 at the time.
16 years after the abuse ended, in 2013, she disclosed the trauma to National Public Radio (NPR). Gabel later acknowledged that he engaged in an “inappropriate relationship” with a minor. Farrell described how child sexual assault in New York State can be similar to a public health crisis.
“One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by the time they're 18,” Farrell said. “It's just a problem that for reasons, known reasons that it's just still, unfortunately, a taboo subject or something that's in the shadows. We're trying to just illuminate how prevalent child sexual abuse is so that two things can happen. One that survivors can heal and communities can recover, and [two] choose that perpetrators can be identified so that the cycle and stop.”
Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten spoke about some of the legal aspects of child sexual assault cases. In trying these cases, he said, it can often be difficult to convict an abuser beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, according to Dion, sometimes just knowing that someone believes the victim can seem like justice for a victim, even without the legal ramifications. Parents or other people sometimes don't believe kids who report a sexual assault for any number of reasons.