Cuomo unveils plan for Child Victims Act that would do away with statute of limitation

By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
January 12, 2017

Stepping up to the plate for child sex abuse survivors, Gov. Cuomo weighed in Wednesday for the first time with his own plan to help victims seek legal recourse as adults.

Cuomo’s version of the Child Victims Act would do away entirely with the statute of limitations on prosecutions of those who abused children.

It would also allow victims to bring civil lawsuits for 50 years from when their attacks took place and would open up a one-year look-back window for survivors who under current law can no longer bring cases to do so.

In addition, the plan would treat public and private institutions the same by doing away with a current requirement that gives those abused in a school or at another public entity only 90 days from the attack to notify of their intent to sue. They otherwise would have until their 23rd birthday.

Cuomo unveiled his plan in a book outlining his 2017 policy agenda.

"Child victims are one of the most vulnerable populations of this state,” Cuomo wrote. “The outdated laws of New York do not adequately address the needs of these young victims.”

He told the Daily News that changing the law is “the right thing to do.”

"These survivors deserve justice, plain and simple," Cuomo said. "Giving victims the opportunity to advance their claims in court is the right thing to do and I urge the Legislature to join me and pass this measure once and for all."

Cuomo has told advocates and The News, which championed the issue in 2016, that the Child Victims Act would be a priority for him this year.

While the issue is in his policybook for 2017, the governor never publicly mentioned it during his six regional State of the State addresses he gave this week.

Long-frustrated advocates reacted to the plan with glee.

Gary Greenberg, a child sex abuse victim to who created a political action committee to fight for the Child Victims Act, praised Cuomo for "his courage to stand up for victims of child sex abuse" and called on legislative leaders to pass the proposal.

Another survivor, Andrew Willis, who heads the Stop Abuse Campaign, said that "sexually abused children suffer a lifetime of physical, mental and emotional pain." He said the governor's plan would ensure "victims have access to justice, predators are identified, and children are protected."

In spotlighting that many former child victims are denied justice, The News documented that, extending across society, predators range from family members and athletic coaches to neighbors, teachers and clergy of numerous denominations.

But even with Cuomo on board, the fate of the issue that has stalled in Albany for over a decade remains uncertain.

Senate Republicans, some legislative Democrats and religious organizations have particularly opposed the idea of a one-year window to revive old cases. They argue it’s not fair to the accused given that memories tend to fade over time and could bankrupt religious and other organizations.

At the same time, public schools, teachers, and local governments who hold great sway in Albany have in the past opposed the idea of getting rid of the requirement that sex abuse victims file a notice of intent to sue within 90 days of their attacks.

Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the state Catholic Conference headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, said church officials want to see the details of what Cuomo is proposing, but reiterated that the church vehemently opposes a one-year lookback.

That opposition remains in place even after Dolan set up a program to compensate people sexually abused as children that covers those who can no longer sue under the law.

The Catholic Conference has supported the elimination of the criminal statute of limitation on child sex abuse cases and extending the civil time frame, though it’s not clear whether it would agree to Cuomo’s plan to give victims 50 years from the attacks.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who is the sponsor of a comprehensive Child Victims Act bill, said he is “heartened” to hear about Cuomo’s plan.

He called on the Republican leadership of the chamber to allow the measure to come to the floor for a vote.

“This will be a vote of conscience,” Hoylman said. “There’s nothing (more) important than seeing justice done, especially for our kids.”

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said “any proposal would need to be weighed by the members of our conference.”

Senate GOP Majority Leader John Flanagan said last week it was too early to say whether a bill will be voted on this year.

Asked about Cuomo’s plan, Assembly Democrat spokesman Michael Whyland said, “It’s an important issue and we look forward to having productive conversations so we can help victims.”

Kathryn Robb, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate who has regularly met with Cuomo’s office, expressed her gratitude for his position.

"We are very pleased with the Governor's proposal and his tireless commitment to justice,” she said. “The Governor understands the basic fundamental right to justice for victims, and he understands that the lack justice is directly linked to the continued concealment of dangerous sexual predators in our society. He is leading victims to justice and children to safety."