N.Y. attorney general urges state lawmakers to loosen limit on when kid victims can seek justice for sex abuse

By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
April 6, 2016

ALBANY — Do something, Albany!

State lawmakers should stop wasting time and pass legislation to make it easier for people sexually abused as children to seek justice as adults.

The call to action — contained in a letter to legislative leaders — came from the desk of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday.

He urged Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) to quickly allow a floor vote on legislation that would extend or eliminate the time limit abuse victims have to bring criminal and civil cases.

“The Legislature has discussed and debated this issue for years, and now it is time to act,” Schneiderman wrote. “Prosecutors must be empowered to deliver justice in these cases.

“And by denying child sexual abuse victims their day in court, we are denying them their right to equal justice under the law.”

The Republican-led Senate has never passed such legislation, while the Democratic-controlled Assembly last acted in 2008.

“This is unconscionable, and must be addressed during this year’s legislative session,” Schneiderman wrote.

Under current law, an adult who was sexually abused as a child has until they reach the age of 23 to bring a lawsuit. And prosecutors are also barred from bringing a criminal case “for many of these heinous crimes,” the attorney general wrote.

Flanagan’s spokesman Scott Reif suggested the Senate is at least open to the discussion.

“The Senate has acted in the past to adjust the criminal statute of limitations related to sex crimes committed against minors, and we are always willing to participate in a dialogue about whether the state is doing enough to protect child victims of sex crimes,” Reif said.

Heastie’s spokesman Michael Whyland was noncommittal over whether a bill will be brought to the Assembly floor for a vote. He said the decision will rest with the Democratic conference majority members.

The statute of limitations in New York State applies only to accusations made against private entities, religious institutions and nonprofits. In the case of public institutions, accusers have only 90 days after an incident occurred to file notices of a claim — the first step in a lawsuit — an imbalance that critics say is unfair to the Catholic Church.

Schneiderman in his letter to the legislative leaders said that as a state senator he voted for a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for first-degree rape and other high-level felony sex offenses.

He said he also co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would have further extended the statutes of limitations for other sex offenses committed against a child.

As attorney general, Schneiderman called it his job to ensure equal justice for all New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable.

“No one is more vulnerable than children who have been the victims of sexual abuse,” he wrote.

Citing research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Schneiderman said that one in four girls, and one in six boys, are sexually abused before the age of 18.

“But for many victims, the full memory of childhood abuse is often suppressed for decades — or victims are too overcome by fear and shame to report their abusers until they find the strength and support they need in adulthood," he wrote. “We must not allow our justice system to further victimize our fellow New Yorkers.”

He said New York is one of four states, along with Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, that denies victims a day in court “and “allows those who prey on children to walk away unpunished.”

Eric Schneiderman letter

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) has a bill that would not only eliminate the statute of limitations on sex abuse crimes committed against kids, but would also give a one-year window for those abused in private institutions, religious organizations and nonprofits like the Boy Scouts to bring civil lawsuits if the statute of limitations in their cases has already expired under existing law.

The church vehemently opposes the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan).

Instead, the state Catholic Conference has backed an alternative bill pushed by Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island) that would increase the statute of limitations for kid sex abuse cases by five years, to 28. Cusick’s bill does not contain the one-year window in Markey’s proposal.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) said last week he is against the Markey-Hoylman bill, while Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) said he doesn't see an “impetus” to act this year.