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How COVID 19 is Disrupting NY Child Abuse Law; Legislators, Advocates, Victims Seek Extension

Courtesy Office of the Governor

Lawmakers, survivors and advocates are calling for an extension of the lookback window for sexual assault survivors in New York with old claims. Under the Child Victims Act, more than 1700 people filed claims that had gone cold due to statutes of limitations. 

Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down state courts.  State Senator Brad Hoylman has taken up the cause.

“We promised survivors a full 12 months to have their day in court, and it’s just simply unfair and unjust to pull the rug out from under them at this point.”  

The act has a 12-month look-back window for survivors to bring cases against abusers and institutions that enabled them, no matter how long ago they occurred. Abuse Survivor Brian Toale says cases to date in New York and other states are giving victims relief and stopping abusers from hurting others.

“There is no question that we were on a path to the righting of a great wrong. To do anything less than extend the window for another year would be a travesty and a tragedy because of the success they have had in bringing predators to justice, healing to victims and safety to our children today and tomorrow.”

States such as California and New Jersey have similar acts with longer look-back windows. The group Safe Horizon is providing legal help for victims and advocating for New York to extend the look-back period.

Toale says lawyers are reluctant to take cases against individuals, so unless victims are suing institutions such as a church or youth organization, they may have trouble.

Mary Ellen O’Loughlin has had just such problems trying to sue her stepfather.  She says she’s not looking for money, but rather justice for herself and protection of others.

“By having him identified through the court system, and his name to be available for discovery, allows for corroborating evidence for someone to come forward over the coming years, while they are still within the statute of limitations.”

If not changed, the look-back window on older cases would close on Aug. 14. Safe Horizons is seeking to extend it another year. Current law allows victims to bring criminal charges against an attacker until they’re 28 years old, while civil cases can be brought until the victim is 55.

The Child Victims Act was passed in January 2019 as one of the first pieces of legislation from the new Democratic majority in the Legislature after stalling for years in the Republican-led Senate. Hoylman has asked fellow legislators to session digitally to pass the extension, as the Legislature is on break until April 20.  The State Assembly and Senate failed to act on an extension while in session remotely last week.