As the Child Victims Act draws to a close, the coronavirus pandemic which has stalled it has led to the prohibition of new cases being filed in New York courts. In an August 2019 interview, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “Child sexual abuse is a real epidemic. It’s been in the corners and in the shadows, but it is much more widespread than people want to admit.”
According to City and State NY, ” Now that epidemic has been eclipsed by a global pandemic, whether some victims of childhood sexual abuse will have the chance to take their alleged abusers to court is uncertain. Beginning in August, many adults who were the victims of sexual abuse as children had a one-year opportunity to take legal action against their alleged abusers and related institutions. But the coronavirus crisis has scrambled legislative priorities and closed the courts to all but the most urgent matters, and the survivors who were given a grace period to press charges or seek damages outside the normal statute of limitations now find themselves unable to make those claims.”
Many survivors have not come forward to pursue justice because they are locked in their homes, unable to seek counsel or pursue justice. This has led many to question whether NY legislators should extend the one year window.
On March 20, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order pausing statutes of limitations on court cases due to the pandemic. However, it is unclear how this affects the sexual abuse cases brought under the Child Victims Act.
State Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Neil Breslin has also said he opposes extending the window another year, though he said he is open to making up for time lost during the pandemic. “That seems to me that I could be convinced that that’s very reasonable,” he said. Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who chairs the Insurance Committee in that chamber, said, “We certainly didn’t expect that the last few months of the Child Victims Act (look-back window) would have people barred from courtrooms. I would be inclined towards supporting an extension.”
Advocates are continuing their calls for a yearlong extension of the look-back window this session despite the coronavirus pandemic. Child victims advocate Tom Andriola said getting the tone of advocacy right during this unprecedented time was important. “People just want to be respectful, but they also want to make sure that folks know it’s really important to take some action on this,” he said.
Justice demands that extra time be given to those who may want to file a claim under the Child Victims Act. The pandemic that struck New York has disrupted the lives of New Yorkers and the state legislature must respond to this crisis in an equitable manner.