By The New York Times Editorial Board
August 13, 2014
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill last week that adds compensated public school coaches to the list of professionals, including teachers, required to report to authorities suspected cases of child sexual abuse and other maltreatment. This leaves uncovered some (but not all) private and parochial school coaches, volunteer coaches and college-level coaches. And it does nothing to elevate New York’s low ranking when it comes to providing justice to the victims of child sexual abuse. That shabby distinction is directly related to the state’s failure to extend its severely short statute of limitations in child-sexual-abuse cases.
Serious abuse cases involving institutions like Yeshiva University High School for Boys, Horace Mann and Penn State show that it can take years before victims are emotionally and psychologically ready to come forward. Many states have made changes to better align their statutes of limitation with that practical reality. But not New York, where people have just until age 23 in most circumstances to bring a claim against their abusers.
By comparison, Hawaii, in 2012, extended its time limit for civil lawsuits by child victims from 20 to the age of 26, or to three years from the time the victim realizes the abuse caused harm. The Hawaii reform also created a two-year window to allow victims to file claims even if the statute of limitations under the old law had expired. Hawaii lawmakers recently tacked on another two-year window. And, just a few week ago, the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, signed a law raising the limit for filing civil lawsuits against abusers from age 21 to 53.
These actions help victims of abuse and advance public safety generally by increasing the possibility that hidden pedophiles will be exposed. They also make New York look even worse.
A measure introduced years ago by Margaret Markey, an Assembly Democrat — the Child Victims Act — would give child-sexual-abuse victims more time to file both civil and criminal complaints and provide a one-year window for filing expired claims. The current version died again this year in the Senate, and it will continue to languish until Mr. Cuomo, who has been missing in action on the matter and is now seeking re-election, confronts intense lobbying by leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and other opponents of reform. That, in turn, will require sustained and principled leadership.