Until January 2019, survivors of childhood sexual abuse in New York typically had until their 23rd birthday to file a civil lawsuit against their abusers. Sexual abusers who are found civilly liable for abuse must pay their victims money damages.
The Child Victims Act (CVA) extends the time limit (called the "statute of limitations") on a survivor's right to file a child sex abuse lawsuit. Moving forward, survivors who were under the age of 23 on February 14, 2019, will have until their 55th birthday to sue their abuser and the people, businesses, and institutions that failed to report, prevent, or stop the abuse.
Lawmakers in New York and many other states have extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims because victims of abuse often wait years—decades even—before telling anyone about the abuse. According to CHILD USA, a national think tank for child protection, survivors delay disclosing abuse for many reasons, including trauma stemming from the abuse and an inability to put their experience into words.
In the past, survivors who delayed disclosing their abuse lost their chance to seek justice and financial compensation from their abusers. New York's CVA will allow more survivors to have their day in court.
In addition to giving survivors of childhood sexual abuse more time to sue, the CVA created a time-limited "lookback window" that allowed any adult survivor of child sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit against an abuser no matter how long ago the abuse happened.
The CVA's lookback window closed on August 14, 2021. The Associated Press estimates that over 9,000 survivors of childhood sexual abuse filed lawsuits in New York that would have otherwise been time-barred in the two years that the lookback window was open. Survivors sued their abusers and the powerful institutions, like churches, schools, and scout groups, that failed to protect them.
Starting in May 2022, with the passage of the Adult Survivors Act (ASA), adult survivors of sexual assault in New York can file lawsuits against their abusers that were previously time-barred by the statute of limitations. The ASA, modeled after the CVA, provides a one-year lookback window for people who were sexually abused when they were 18 years or older. The Adult Survivor Act's lookback window opened on November 24, 2022, and closes on November 24, 2023. The ASA applies to approximately 20 sex offenses in New York.
Survivors will be able to file lawsuits against their alleged abusers (or the abuser's estate if the abuser has died), employers, and institutions. For example, if the alleged abuse happened at work, a survivor can file a lawsuit against the alleged abuser and the employer. Lawyers and courts are expecting a wave of lawsuits against managers, professors, doctors, prison guards, coaches, and prominent figures like Bill Cosby and former president Donald Trump (see below).
As of May 2023, according to numbers provided to Hell Gate by New York's Office of Court Administration, 106 cases have been filed under the ASA statewide. The majority of lawsuits have been filed by formerly incarcerated women alleging that they've been sexually abused by correction officers and other staff in New York's jails and prisons.
Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about New York's Child Victims Act or the Adult Survivors Act. An initial consultation is usually free and is always confidential. Learn more about finding the right attorney. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.
You can find more information in Nolo's guide for survivors: Taking Action After Sexual Abuse.