If the #MeToo movement of the last few months has taught us anything, it’s that it is extremely painful and risky for victims of sexual harassment or assault — even those with power, money and connections — to speak out against their abusers. Now consider how much harder it must be for a child.
It should surprise no one that a vast majority of people who were sexually abused as children never report it. For those who do, it takes years, and often decades, to recognize what happened to them, realize it wasn’t their fault and tell someone. The trauma leads to higher rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, depression, suicide and other physical and psychological problems that cost millions or billions to treat — money that should be paid not by taxpayers, but by the offenders and the institutions that cover for them.
For these reasons, many states — including eight last year alone — have done the right thing and extended or eliminated statutes of limitations for the reporting of child sexual abuse. This has encouraged more victims to come forward and seek justice for abuse that was never properly addressed, if it was addressed at all.
New York, which has had no shortage of child sex-abuse scandals, should be on that list. In fact, it should be leading the nation on this issue. Instead it, along with Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Michigan, is one of the states with the least victim-friendly reporting laws in the country. New York requires most child sex-abuse victims to sue by the age of 23, 19 years before the average age at which such victims report their abuse.
Lawmakers have had the solution in their hands for more than a decade. The Child Victims Act would extend the statute of limitations to age 50 in civil cases, and to age 28 in criminal cases. It would also establish a one-year window in which anyone would be permitted to bring a lawsuit, even if the statute of limitations had already expired.
The bill enjoys widespread and bipartisan support in Albany — it passed the State Assembly once again in 2017, by a vote of 139 to 7 — and from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And yet it keeps failing to become law.
Why? The Senate majority leader, John Flanagan, a Republican, has refused to let the bill come to the floor for a vote. The bill’s opponents, which include the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jewish groups and the Boy Scouts of America, are concerned primarily with the one-year window, which they believe would cause a wave of claims that could drive churches, schools and hospitals into bankruptcy. That hasn’t happened in other states, even those that opened the window for longer. In Minnesota, which created a three-year window for a population a little more than a quarter of New York’s, just under 1,000 civil claims have been filed.
But even if it did, we should be less concerned with protecting the bank accounts of institutions that might harbor sexual predators, and more concerned with bringing justice to the victims — whether their abusers are clergy members, teachers or, as in a majority of cases, a family member.
The Child Victims Act should have passed on its merits long ago. Since it hasn’t, Mr. Cuomo needs to step up and demonstrate the leadership he has shown on many other divisive issues in recent years, like same-sex marriage. If Mr. Cuomo includes the bill’s provisions in the 2018-19 state budget, which he is scheduled to present on Tuesday, he will make it extremely tough for Mr. Flanagan and other Republican leaders to say no to protecting New York’s most vulnerable victims.
A version of this editorial appears in print on January 12, 2018, on Page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Albany, Pass the Child Victims Act.
Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.