Recent action by state lawmakers has served to expand the rights and options of childhood sexual abuse survivors in New York when it comes to taking legal action against abusers and others. In the sections below we'll explain key provisions of New York's Child Victims Act (passed in 2019), including a "lookback window" that allows the filing of a lawsuit over childhood sexual abuse that occurred years (even decades) ago—even claims that might have been previously barred by filing deadlines—until August 14, 2021.
In the context of a civil lawsuit over harm resulting from sexual abuse, a statute of limitations is a law that sets a strict time limit on the survivor's right to file a lawsuit against the person who committed the abuse—and against any other person, business, or institution that failed to report, prevent, or stop the abuse.
Claims over harm resulting from childhood sexual abuse are unique among civil lawsuits, not least because it can take an extended amount of time for survivors to come to terms with the abuse, let alone process the resulting trauma. At the same time, failure to get a lawsuit filed within the time limit set by the statute of limitations means that survivors will likely lose the right to hold not just abuse perpetrators legally responsible, but also churches, school districts, youth camps, and other organizations that may have failed to fulfill their clear legal duties to protect young people in their care.
Until 2019, survivors of childhood sexual abuse in New York typically had only a few years to file a lawsuit over their harm, and the clock started ticking on the day they turned 18 years of age. Now, under the new statute of limitations rules created by the Child Victims Act, most survivors can file a lawsuit against abusers (and others who may bear legal responsibility for the abuse) until they reach 55 years of age.
Note: The Child Victims Act also extends the time for filing criminal charges over childhood sexual abuse in New York, for both felony offenses (charges against the perpetrator are typically possible until the survivor is 28) and misdemeanors (charges can typically be brought until the survivor is 25). Learn more about pressing criminal charges over childhood sexual abuse.
At least for some survivors, the most important provision of the Child Victims Act is that it revives the legal options of those who had previously lost the right to file a lawsuit against the people and institutions responsible for the abuse. The new law creates a "lookback window" during which almost any survivor of abuse can now file a lawsuit, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred, and even when their claim might have previously been barred by the statute of limitations.
Since the Child Victims Act was signed into law in 2019, state lawmakers estimate that at least 3,000 New York survivors of childhood sexual abuse have utilized the "lookback window" to file lawsuits. Originally slated to be open for only one year (through August 2020) the window has been extended (in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and is now open through August 14, 2021.
Besides the statute of limitations extensions and the "lookback window" we discussed above, the Child Victims Act also eliminates the requirement that survivors provide a notice of claim before they can file a lawsuit against public entities like school districts and other organizations.
For more in-depth information on New York's Child Victims Act, check out this summary from the New York City Bar Association, and this Child Sex Abuse Cases page from New York Courts.gov.
For details on how New York's Child Victims Act might impact your options for seeking justice over an incident of childhood sexual abuse, you might want to discuss your situation with an experienced New York attorney. An initial consultation is usually free, and is always confidential. Learn more about finding the right attorney for you, and how a lawyer can help.
Finally, for more on the spectrum of help available to sexual abuse survivors, see our companion article Survivor Resources: Taking Action After Sexual Abuse.