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N.Y. renews push to extend child sex abuse statute of limitations


ALBANY, N.Y.—New York lawmakers are renewing efforts to extend the amount of time that child victims of sexual abuse and assault can report and/or file suit against their attackers.

A bill before the state Assembly—first introduced in 2006 and reintroduced in February—would extend criminal and civil statutes of limitations in New York by five years. The law would give child victims until they reach 28 years old to report to police or file civil suit for any prior sexual abuse.

The current cutoff for reporting a childhood attack in New York is age 23. Adults have five years after an alleged attack to file criminal or civil charges.

The proposed law, which has passed three Assembly votes since its introduction, also would suspend the civil statute for one year so victims of crimes who were disqualified under the current law can sue individuals or private institutions.

‘Teachable moment’

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, D-Queens, the bill’s author and chief sponsor, campaigned for the bill’s passage for years before the recent sexual abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse universities became public. Those events, she wrote in a recent op-ed piece in the Albany Times-Union newspaper, serves only as further evidence of the bill’s necessity.

“I think this is one of those ‘teachable moments’ where other, similarly terrible incidents don't usually get these same front-page headlines,” Ms. Markey wrote. “The one thing all abusers have in common is that they hold a position of influence and trust in the life of a child, and use their power to violate that trust. People who abuse kids are most often family members, family friends or relatives. But they are also coaches, religious leaders, doctors and youth workers.”

The proposed permanent five-year extension to bring criminal and civil cases would apply in cases against individuals or private companies, organizations or institutions.

However, it would not include suits against public agencies or employees; those claims must be filed within 90 days of the incident, according to current state law. Victims in those instances instead would be granted a one-year “late filing” window in which a judge could grant permission to pursue a case against a municipality or public agency as a whole, or any public employees.

Opponents include religious groups

Prior attempts to approve the bill have been thwarted by the New York’s Senate, and opposed in the past by Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish officials on the grounds that it unfairly targets religious institutions.

Calls to the Archdiocese of New York, the New York Catholic Conference and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg were not immediately returned.

Roman Catholic officials, in particular, have decried the bill as being biased against the church. In a point-by-point breakdown of the law, Ms. Markey rejected the idea that sexual abuse settlements have pushed dioceses to the brink of bankruptcy, and said that no institution would be unduly targeted as a result of the bill’s passage.

If an organization were unaware through no fault of its own of an employee or an affiliate’s crimes, “the agency or organization cannot be held liable,” Ms. Markey wrote. “An institution may be held liable only if they knew the predator had a history and did not take appropriate action.”