The sexual assault and human trafficking case of Jeffrey Epstein could help other victims of assaults get support or more information about taking legal actions in their cases. Another victim came forward Wednesday to say she was lured to Epstein’s home and then raped.
The organization Safe Horizon helps assault victims with shelter and legal advice. Vice President Michael Polenberg says it’s difficult for a survivor to come forward.
“For any number of reasons, it may take a long time for them to make a disclosure. The person that harmed them as a child may still be someone who has influence in their life, may have threatened them, may have threatened family members. The person that harmed them may be a family member.”
He adds recent changes in state law, notably the Child victims Act, allows sexual abuse victims much more time to report or bring a civil suit.
CHILD VICTIMS ACT WAS APPROVED THIS YEAR IN NEW YORK
The Child Victims Act, which became law in 2019, creates a one-time, one-year window that allows ANY adult survivor of child abuse older than 23 to file a civil claim against their abuser. The lookback window also allows survivors to file civil claims against any institution that protected their abuser.
The one year window opens August 14.
The Child Victims Act also creates a meaningful statute of limitation reform for survivors of childhood sexual abuse in New York State. Before this new law, New York State had one of the most restrictive statute of limitations in the country. Now, survivors will have greater opportunities to hold their offenders accountable in a court of law.
A highly publicized case such as this can bring up painful memories, but also can encourage survivors to seek justice. Vera House Director of Legal Services Bryn Lovejoy-Grinnell (grih-NELL) recalls how the attention can empower a victim.
“We can look back to when the Harvey Weinstein story broke and we then saw a wave of (abuse) reporting because people thought now one was going to care, no one was going to believe them, or that this was acceptable behavior. And now people say, ‘Wait. That happened to me. Now I might be able to get some support; now I might be able to reach out for help in a way that I didn’t feel that I could before.’”
In the Epstein Case, many of the victims were reportedly offered money to come to his house, not knowing it could turn into assault. Lovejoy-Grinnell says such schemes are not uncommon in situations that result in human trafficking.
“Yes, I think those schemes exist. I have certainly heard about them personally. There are folks approaching younger women, ‘hey, do you want be a model; do you want to be an actress, and then you should take off your clothes.’ And it moves toward a trafficking situation.”
Both Vera House and Safe Horizons say they try to give victims support and belief. Polenberg adds with the new laws in New York, he wants anyone who was abused to know their options … and the realities of the legal system.
“Whether they’re bringing charges in a criminal proceeding or filing a civil lawsuit, that they understand what’s going to happen, what opposing counsel will likely ask, what kinds of feelings and issues will come up for the survivor. And that’s not to try to discourage anybody but it’s more to make sure they’re going in with their eyes open.”
They also offer legal advice through the criminal or civil cases … though leave any decisions about legal actions to the survivors.