N.Y. Senate votes to give victims of child sex abuse more years to sue, ending years-long battle

Alleged sex abuse victims would be able to sue the Roman Catholic Church and other groups for damages.
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Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, center, during a news conference about passing legislation authorizing the Child Victims Act at the state Capitol in Albany, New York, on Jan. 28, 2019.Hans Pennink / AP

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By Corky Siemaszko

The long and bitter battle for legislation that would allow New York sex abuse victims to sue the Roman Catholic Church and other organizations for monetary damages ended with victory Monday when the state Senate passed the Child Victims Act.

The vote was 63 to nothing, a spokeswoman for one of the bill's sponsors, state Sen. Brad Hoylman, said.

The new law does away with the statutes of limitations that have prevented some alleged abuse victims from going to court to seek damages. And it includes a one-year “look-back window” that will allow others who weren’t able to sue in the past to file fresh claims.

“Passage of the Child Victims Act is an exhilarating and empowering moment for those of us who have been waging this battle in Albany for a dozen years,” Stephen Jimenez, a sex abuse survivor and advocate for other victims, said after the vote.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly was also expected to pass the measure later Monday and Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected to sign the bill, which was sponsored by Hoylman and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, both Manhattan Democrats.

“Today, in passing the Child Victims Act, we are finally telling the survivors: The State of New York and the full force of its law is behind you, and you will not be turned away,” Hoylman said in a statement.

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“This is a historic day for New York as lawmakers choose children over predators,” Rosenthal added.

Survivor Stephen Jimenez speaks about being abused as a child while meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other survivors and Child Victims Act advocates during a news conference at the state Capitol on Jan. 28, 2019, in Albany, New York.Hans Pennink / AP

Under the new legislation, child sexual abuse survivors will be permitted to sue their abuser or institutions until age 55, up from the current age of 23. Also, those abused at a public institution will no longer be required to file a notice of claim as a condition to filing a lawsuit.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who as archbishop of New York leads more than 2 million Catholics, had bitterly opposed the legislation arguing that it could bankrupt the church. But after the vote, the New York State bishops issued a statement saying, "We pray that the passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors by offering them a path of recourse and reconciliation."

"The legislation now recognizes that child sexual abuse is an evil not just limited to one institution, but a tragic societal ill that must be addressed in every place where it exists," it adds.

The Child Victims Act championed by Hoylman and Rosenthal passed in the New York state Assembly by wide margins in 2017 and 2018. But it was blocked each time in the state Senate by the Republican majority.

After the Democrats regained the Senate majority last year and took power, Dolan waved the white flag ahead of Monday’s vote and called for a measure that avoids “breaking” the church.

“The emphasis must be on helping them heal, not breaking government, educational, health, welfare or religious organizations,” Dolan wrote in an op-ed this month in The New York Daily News.

Mitchell Garabedian, whose work on behalf of Boston clerical sex abuse victims were dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie "Spotlight," said this legislation was long overdue.

"With the passage of the Child Victims Act by the New York Legislature there is now hope for justice, respect and validation for thousands of sexual abuse victims sexually abused in New York," he said. "It is time for the sexual abuse laws in countless states in the country and in the world to catch up to the times and follow the lead of the New York Legislature."

Statute of limitations laws vary from state to state, according to Child USA, a think tank dedicated to preventing child abuse.

It helps explain why just two of the 301 Pennsylvania priests named last year in Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s bombshell report on sex abuse of children by priests in six dioceses were charged with crimes.