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Politics & Government

Gov. Cuomo Signs Child Victims Act, Opening Door for Survivors to Seek Justice

Governor Cuomo's flickr page

Governor Cuomo Thursday was able to tell survivors of child sexual abuse that after more than a decade, the state is standing with them. 

An audience of survivors and advocates looked on as he signed the Child Victims Act.

"For the past 13 years, the bill died in the state senate.  Not because people voted against it.  Even worse...because they wouldn't bring the bill to the floor.  They wouldn't tell the people of the state the positions of the politicians."

The legislation passed the senate unanimously this year, meaning every republican voted yes.  It gives survivors until their 55th birthday to bring a civil suit against an abuser; their 28th birthday to seek felony charges; and their 25th to pursue misdemeanor charges.  Michelle Simpson-Tuegel is an attorney who’s represented clergy abuse survivors all cross the county, including New York State.  She says this law opens the door for the hundreds, if not thousands, who might consider coming forward to have their day in court.

Credit Governor Cuomo's flickr page
An audience member wipes away a tear during the signing ceremony.

"They want answers.  They want the truth.  You hear the word justice alot.  What justice means to a lot of these clients is somebody answers how this happened for so long, and why did it happen to me.  Giving those answers to them is part of their healing process.  And, those answers also help prevent it moving forward."

She says potential clients tell her that all they have is their word against an abuser.  But Simpson-Tuegel says in many clergy abuse cases, the same priests continue to abuse children.  She says policy changes and safeguards are more important to the survivors than monetary demands.  Now that the law is in place, a six month waiting period begins before survivors have one year to file a lawsuit regardless of when the abuse occurred.