Across New York and the rest of the nation, media headlines are dominated by the recent arrest by the FBI-New York Police Department Crimes Against Children Task Force of billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein on charges of sexually abusing and trafficking minors, some as young as 14 years old.
While anyone — no matter how heinous the crime is that they stand accused of — deserves the presumption of innocence, should these charges prove true, they could involve sexual abuse cases that go back decades. This means many of the children who suffered sexual abuse could be barred from legal recourse because of New York’s statute of limitations restrictions.
But in August, this will no longer be the case. Last session, I voted for — and the governor signed into law — new legislation called the Child Victims Act, which increases the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children and, for one year starting in mid-August, lifts the statute of limitations entirely for civil cases.
Statute of limitations restrictions are like a legal stopwatch. From the moment a crime occurs for most crimes in New York state (and most other states), the stopwatch starts running until the time runs out for someone harmed by a crime to get justice in court, either in a civil or criminal case.
Before the Child Victims Act, New York’s statute of limitations laws were some of the strictest nationwide, which prevented countless New Yorkers from having an opportunity to hold their abusers and the institutions who covered for them accountable. All an abuser needed to do was run out the clock.
Child sex abuse survivors often take years or decades to get to a point where they feel comfortable bringing a case, as has been the case with multiple women who have accused Epstein of abusing them as children. Highly restrictive statutes of limitations foreclose on the possibility of survivors coming forward simply because their own process to come to terms with what happened to them took longer than an arbitrary legal timeline.
This law corrects that, and will help ensure that institutions who have previously harbored child sexual predators and covered up their crimes will instead help bring them to justice.
I was so proud to support this critical legislation, and see it passed in New York after more than a decade of advocacy and political pushing, since it was originally introduced. Now it’s time for stakeholders across New York — particularly the elected officials who passed it — to get to work on raising awareness about these important new changes.
Passing the law is a critical first step, but ensuring justice requires that survivors know what their options are.
To that end, on July 18, in partnership with the Zero Abuse Project — a national nonprofit dedicated to stopping the abuse of children — I held a town hall session so that people across the Bronx know their rights, particularly child sex abuse survivors and the men and women who work with them.
We were joined by members of the New York State Children’s Alliance, Safe Horizons, and the Crime Victim Treatment Center, who collectively represent Child Advocacy Centers across the state, who work directly to provide healing and justice for children who have been abused or neglected.
Survivors of all ages should know that there is a community of people across the Bronx who are committed to helping them seek justice, who have the know-how and resources to help. After nearly 15 years, survivors now have an opportunity to hold their abusers and anyone who helped hide their crimes accountable.
The author is an Assemblyman who represents the 85th district, which includes Soundview and parts of Castle Hill.