August 14, 2021 was the deadline for victims to file lawsuits under New York’s Child Victims Act (CVA). The law suspended the civil statute of limitations for individuals who experienced sex abuse as children to pursue litigation against their abusers and the organizations that allowed the abuse to occur. Although originally intended to provide a one-year window, the CVA was extended to two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors.
According to the Associated Press, more than 9,000 claims had been filed as of one day before the deadline, with potentially hundreds more being filed in the final hours. As expected, the most frequently cited defendants were institutions like the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, schools, hospitals and other organizations.
Take a moment to appreciate that more than 9,000 people have come forward in New York state alone. These victims have been living with the trauma of child sex abuse throughout their adult lives – some for more than a half-century. Victim advocates say that these filings don’t reflect the true number of victims. They only represent the still-living victims who have worked through their trauma enough to be able to report it publicly.
A lifetime of difficulty
Until the CVA opened the window by suspending the statute of limitations, thousands of victims had no legal recourse – criminal or civil – due to statutes of limitation that are unreasonably short in light of what we now know about processing childhood trauma. Many victims repress memories of the abuse as a survival and coping mechanism, only to have it suddenly resurface by accidental trigger or through therapy. Even while repressed, the trauma can lead to relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other destructive problems.
Once the abuse is remembered, it can still take years or a lifetime to process it and to summon the courage to come forward. By then, it is usually too late. Thanks to the CVA, however, many victims were given a chance they never thought they would have.
Additional legislation under consideration
In Spring 2021, the New York Senate passed a bill called the Adult Survivors Act, which would offer the same look-back window for individuals victimized as adults. Unfortunately, the legislation stalled in the Assembly and the bill’s future is uncertain.
If it is enacted, we can likely expect another flood of lawsuits – including from victims who were essentially children at the time but had just become legal adults.
Seek help and support
If you’ve suffered sex abuse as a child or as an adult, please reach out to someone for help and support. This can include a trusted therapist, family or friends. You may not be ready to file a lawsuit (or you may have missed the window), but you deserve to be free of the burden you’ve been carrying, and help is available.