Bill would extend window for justice on abuse cases

By Tiffany Brooks

Staff Writer

April 21, 2014

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey is renewing her push for legislation that would give sexual assault victims more time to file criminal and civil complaints against their abusers.

Markey’s Child Victims Act (A.1771-a/ S.06367) would eliminate completely the statute of limitation on reporting criminal charges of sexual assault, erasing the current five year limitation on reporting an incident after a victim turns 18. The bill would also suspend the civil statute of limitations for one year in order to help expose older crimes and allow for possible identification of hidden abusers through the court discovery process.

“Research consistently shows that survivors of childhood sexual abuse do not come to terms with what happened to them until later in life, often not until middle age,” said Markey, D-Maspeth. “Providing more time for them to come forward not only provides justice for those who have been victimized, but will also expose pedophiles who remain hidden because of current law.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 percent of men and 18 percent of women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Thirty-five percent of female victims were assaulted as minors and 28 percent of male victims were assaulted under the age of 10.

It is also estimated that 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to police.

“The prevalence of childhood sexual abuse is astonishing. However, the greatest tragedy is that we have failed to protect our children who often have no voice. These heinous crimes have long term psychological and destructive manifestations that severely impact not only the victims but their families and our communities,” said Susan Xenarios, co-chair of the Downstate Crime Victims Coalition. “The time for New York state to take a stand to give these victims access to justice is overdue. We whole heartily support the Child Victims Act as a major step in making a difference for the rights of children and adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.”

When Markey first introduced the bill eight years ago, she originally wanted to add five years to the statue of limitations for child sexual abuse, which would have allowed child victims to come forward with allegations of abuse until the age of 28.

But in light of sexual assault incidents with male victims at Penn State University, Syracuse University, and the Horace Mann School – where victims came forward with stories of abuse decades later – Markey says these scandals have shown that society needs to change how it views the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse.

“It really allows them to seek justice, because of the nature of child sexual abuse it takes victims some time to move on and heal,” said Julie Kay, advocacy and policy senior strategist for the Ms. Foundation for Women. “It serves as a powerful prevention tool to help identify abusers still out there.” Kay said the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, would also put institutions on notice to step up and protect children from abuse rather than covering it up, subjecting children to long-term damage as a result.

Advocates plan to hold a rally on May 13 to push for Senate support for the bill, which has passed in the Assembly four times. The bill is currently in the Codes Committee in each house.