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Child Victims Act 'look-back' window still open

It's been nearly three months since New York's Child Victims Act became law. Victims and advocates had been fighting lobbyists and some politicians for 13 years. New York's Catholic Conference and the Boy Scouts of America, perhaps not surprisingly, were among its most ardent opponents.

When Gov. Cuomo signed the bill into law earlier this year, he said, "You cannot deny that there was significant abuse in the Catholic Church. You cannot deny that it was not handled appropriately. And you can't deny that people were hurt." However, people who were sexually abused by adults in all walks of life can seek justice in civil courts under the law.

The Child Victims Act extends the length of time that survivors of childhood sex abuse in the state have to seek justice. Before the new law took effect, New York had some of the shortest statutes of limitations in the country. Survivors had to take action before they turned 23.

Now survivors up to 55 can sue their alleged abusers in civil court. The law also has a one-year "look-back window" that allows survivors to file lawsuits they couldn't before because of the statute of limitations. That window ends next August.

Further, prosecutors can now charge alleged abusers criminally as long as their alleged victim is under 28.

One survivor who spent considerable time in Albany persuading lawmakers to support the legislation says his and fellow advocates' work isn't finished. He said, "A different kind of work starts now. A one-year window is a very short period of time. There's a lot of people to get that information to."

States still have widely divergent laws and statutes of limitations on child sex abuse claims. Nine states have no statutes of limitation on these claims. Some of those that do are rethinking them.

California's Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed a law that, like the Child Victims Act, allows survivors to file lawsuits against their alleged abusers until they turn 40 -- up from the previous cut-off age of 26. California's new law also includes a look-back window. Theirs is three years beginning next January.

Survivors who were sexually abused as children in New York need to be aware of the time constraints they may be facing with the look-back window. That's why it's essential to seek legal advice as soon as possible if you're interested in pursuing a claim.

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