Albany, NY – A two day push to remove the statute of limitations on child abuse cases began Tuesday in Albany with elected officials, child safety advocates, religious groups and abuse victims clamoring for the passage of a pair of bills that would give New Yorkers who were molested as children a greater chance to seek justice.
The Child Victims Act is sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey and Senator Brad Hoylman. The Queens assemblywoman has been fighting for ten years to change the statute of limitations in New York, which currently only gives those who were abused as children until age 23 to press charges against perpetrators as reported by the Times Union. While versions of the bill have been adopted by the Assembly four times, the legislation has never been introduced in the Senate for a vote.
“New York is among the very worst states in America for how it treats victims of childhood sexual abuse,” said Markey. “We rank right at the very bottom among the 50 states, along with Alabama and Mississippi. This is the year to change that deplorable situation.”
While Markey had originally sought to extend the statute of limitation on child abuse cases, the current Child Victims Act would completely eliminate the civil statute of limitations and would also create a one year window for older victims to press charges against their attackers. A second companion bill would, in the future, eliminate the criminal statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.
Lawmakers say the prospects are improving with a recent change in legislative leadership in Albany. They also credit Massachusetts’ passage two years ago of a similar measure and the recent Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight” about priest abuse of boys in Boston.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman threw his support behind the bill last month, urging both Senate majority leader John Flanagan and Assembly speaker Carl Heastie to bring the bill to vote in a timely fashion.
“Prosecutors must be empowered to deliver justice in these cases,” wrote Schneiderman in a letter written to legislative leaders, obtained by The Daily News. “By denying child sexual abuse victims their day in court, we are denying them their right to equal justice under the law.”
While child safety advocates from the Orthodox Jewish community traveled to Albany to voice their support for the bill, others have opposed it. Agudath Israel of America acknowledged the horror and devastating effects of child abuse but according to The Forward, expressed concern that the Markey Bill would open schools up to “ancient claims and capricious legislation,” saying that it could wreak financial havoc for those institutions.
“We do not oppose extending or even eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for cases of abuse,” said Agudah spokesperson Rabbi Avi Shafran. “Our concern is simply protecting the economic viability of Jewish schools. Yeshivas operate on shoestring budgets.”
In a 2013 interview with The Forward, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of the Agudah, noted while it is important to have accountability for incidents that could have taken place even decades ago, certain distinctions must be drawn in order to protect all parties involved.
“We have said that we would have no problem if you did away with the statute of limitations with respect to criminal actions that might be taken against perpetrators, no problem if you go after the individual perpetrators even way beyond the statute of limitations,” said Rabbi Zwiebel. “We even said we would entertain the possibility of doing away with the statue of limitations for civil liability against individuals. But if you speak about institutional liability for the acts of an employee, that’s where you are talking about the potential of really destroying some very, very precious assets, which are our schools and shuls.”
Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim which deals with abuse cases, noted that the importance of allowing victims to bring criminal charges against perpetrators or those who knowingly covered up instances of abuse without being bound by the statute of limitations.
“ The time has come to stop sweeping abuse under the rug,” said Gluck. “Sexual abuse is killing our kids and it is unconscionable that people who commit financial frauds have a longer statute of limitations than those who commit murder by molesting children. This archaic law must be changed so that those who abuse our children be held criminally liable just as they would for other crimes committed.”