One out of five girls and one out of twenty boys are sexually assaulted. This figure may be much higher, as child sexual assault is frequently not reported, only revealed later in life when the adult can express what the child could not. Other times, the abuse is never reported. Whether or not reported, sexual assault causes grievous injury to the child. Children are among the most vulnerable of victims, but until recently, many states’ statutes of limitation were ill suited to redress survivors of childhood sexual assault.
In New York, prior to August 14, 2019, a child survivor of sexual assault had to file a civil suit for damages before his or her 23rd birthday. That window was as short as one year for certain types of claims. Claims against public institutions were even more restrictive, requiring the victim file a notice of claim within 90 days of the injury. Fortunately, on August 14, 2019 the New York Child Victims Act went into effect.
Going forward, a civil suit may be filed at any time until the survivor of sexual assault turns 55. This portion of the Act applies to claims that have not yet been extinguished under the old statute of limitations. In other words, individuals under the age of 23 (or younger, depending of the specific claim) will have until they turn 55 to file a claim. Essentially, young persons that are not ready to discuss their sexual abuse, have until their 55th birthday to bring suit.
A separate provision of the law creates a “revival window.” Survivors of sexual abuse that had a claim extinguished because the statute of limitations had run would be given a grace period of 1 year to file a suit. In short, even if the crime happened in the distant past, a lawsuit could be filed until August 13, 2020.
Susanne Roberts is a vocal proponent of this legislation. She was brutally assaulted by staff at St. Colman’s home, a Catholic orphanage in Albany, New York in the 1960s. The assaults came at the hands of both a nun and a maintenance man. In 1996, local police conducted a brief investigation and soon received a multitude of allegations of abuse, sexual and otherwise, against the orphanage, including three suspicious deaths. However, since the criminal statute of limitations had run on much of the allegations, nothing became of the investigation. (Under the Child Victims Act, the criminal statute of limitations has been extended to 28 years after the commission of the crime.)
Roberts is now able to seek redress. Under the Child Victims Act, she and others are permitted to bring claims during the one-year revival period. According to reporting by NBC News, Roberts’ stated intent is not for financial gain. “I want to bankrupt them,” she said. “They need never, ever have the chance to abuse children again.”
Other states are following suit. New Jersey has enacted a similar law, but extending the revival window up to 2 years. California’s version of the law limits the statute of limitations to 40 years of age (age of 18 plus 22 years) but provides for a three-year revival window. Other states have pending legislation, such as Massachusetts, which will eliminate criminal statute of limitations on certain sex crimes and will extend the statute of limitations for civil negligence claims against organizations for negligent supervision (e.g., a church ignoring/covering up abuse by clergy).
Statutes of limitations are crafted to balance the equity of justice versus the practicalities of lost evidence, faded memory, and economic predictability. However, society has always deemed certain conduct too egregious to simply excuse it because of the difficulties of time passed. Murder, for instances, typically does not have a statute of limitations. In Michigan, 1st Degree Sexual Misconduct has no statute of limitation. Now, the category of wrong acts has grown to include the sexual abuse of children, which is one of the most damaging acts one person can visit upon another.
Given the complexities of the law surrounding civil suits for injury sustained through sexual assault, experienced legal representation is important. If you are the survivor of sexual assault, regardless of when it occurred, contact the experienced attorneys at Neumann Law Group for a free consultation.