In a history making move, on Thursday February 14 2019, a hard earned and long fought for victory was earned by the Democrats when the Child Victims Act was signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
For over a decade, the bill languished and was pushed around in a Republican controlled senate and vehemently opposed by several institutions such as the Catholic Church in New York. However once the Democrats won control of the Senate, the act was quickly voted on and pushed through on January 28 2019.
Why is it such a significant victory and what does it mean for victims?
The signing of this bill gives power and voice to the hundreds and thousands of children who have been and continue to be victims of sexual abuse. Prior to the signing of this bill, the statue of limitations on pressing charges against an abuser was 23 years of age. This age limit has now been raised to 55.
The increase in age is very significant since in most cases it can take years, if not decades for victims to understand what happened to them, face the truth of what they lived through, choose to disclose it to family members or a therapist before finding the strength to take on their abuser and fight for justice. It can be a long and draining process and studies have shown it can take victims up to the age of fifty and more to admit the effects of their abuse or speak about it publically.
The age to seek felony charges was also increased by five years from 23 to 28 years of age; in addition misdemeanour charges can be filed till the victim’s 25th birthday.
The changes to the bill also gives law enforcement more time to file charges against the perpetrators.
Victims who missed the cut off under the old law, will also be provided with a one time, one-year window in which to either file a new claim or take up an old claim regardless of how much time has passed between now and the abuse.
It’s important to note, the new reforms to the bill does not mean the rights of an accused will be infringed upon or taken away, nor does it mean victims who come forward will automatically be granted a win. The accused are still entitled to the same due process as from before and they will be tried fairly and justly.
The Children’s Victim Act is a victory because in an era where more and more people are coming forward with stories of sexual abuse and misconduct, whether it’s abuse in the church at the hands of priests or in the entertainment industry or at home, protecting the rights and welfare of children and abuse victims has become more important than ever. The hope is that by updating the bill to reflect an evolving society, victims will be allowed closure, justice and most importantly be heard and believed while perpetrators like Larry Nassar, the gymnastics doctor or R Kelly, the singer who have spent decades abusing young children will finally be held accountable for their actions. It’s society and politicians taking a stand to say this behaviour will not be tolerated and abusers will be persecuted.
As the Child Victims Act was passed very recently, it is too early to see what kind of effect it will have and how it will play out in the courts, however, it can be concluded without any doubts that signing the bill has given victims hope and it is telling them it’s not too late to take action, to speak up and to regain their power.