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New York Child Victims Act: A Historical Analysis

New York State was essentially the first state in the nation to institute comprehensive and concrete child protection laws and measures. Despite this fact, and a strong history of protecting child victims, the Child Victims Act only recently passed both the NYS Assembly and Senate in January 2018. There is no doubt that sex abuse victims are grateful and enthusiastic for the opportunity to hold their abusers and the institutions that covered up or facilitated their mistreatment accountable even it was a journey to reach this point. Whether pursuing justice through the criminal or civil courts, victims of past abuse and their attorney advocates now have the tools to provide as much closure, even if not complete, to the wrongs of yesterday.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Prior to 1875, criminal and civil cases in New York involving children as victims were handled in more or less the same way as those involving adults. While it is true that judges, even at that time, had the power to remove a minor from abusive parents and home environments, the use of that power was inconsistent. In 1875, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was established. This organization served as a shining example to other states and localities that followed in New York's footsteps in establishing agencies with the mission of protecting child victims. It is important to note, however, that while well-intentioned and an asset to those they served, the organizations initially did little to address the specific problem of sexual abuse and exploitation. This sad reality held true despite the fact that statistics and research indicated then, as it does today, that youth of all ages were subjected to sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this pervasive problem has continued, and arguably unfettered.

Further Developments of the 20th Century

The various agencies created in the wake of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children did not survive and the inadequacy of protections for child sex offense victims returned. Fortunately, in 1962, an amendment to the Social Security Act required that states make child welfare services available within their borders by 1975 and new laws creating mandatory reporting of child victimization were enacted. Finally, the United States Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974. Known as CAPTA, this new statute provided for federal monies aimed at supporting and improving states' efforts to address the sexual abuse of minors and youths. Further, the legislation created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Continued Acknowledgment and Legislation

Armed with more and more research, the public and policy makers could no longer ignore the disease that spread from family to family, town to town and state to state. Simply, there was no escaping how prevalent child victimization was and had always been. Child sexual abuse, and child abuse in general, comes with a serious and unique complication, and that is the ability of an abuser, especially a parent, teacher, member of the clergy or other adult, to force, coerce or frighten a child to not report or disclose the abuse, at least until the child is much older. Whether it was due to a predator’s ability to normalize the abuse or the inherent lack of awareness and power of a minor, statutes of limitations created an inherent and often insurmountable bar to civil and criminal legal action. To be sure, research indicates that a vast majority of child victims do not disclose their abuse until adulthood.

New York Finally Takes Action: The Child Victims Act

The New York State Legislature has known of the sexual violence and predation that plagued young people for years. It wasn’t until the passage of the Child Victims Act, however, were adequate protections provided to the victims of childhood sex crimes and abuse. For example, where the Criminal Procedure Law used to only allow a complainant to bring legal action against his or her abuser until the age of 23 for felony conduct and 20 for misdemeanor infractions, that time frame has now increased five years for both types of offenses. On the civil side, you can commence a lawsuit prior to your 55th birthday and do so without a notice of claim requirement if the respondent or defendant is operating as or within public entities.

No matter the circumstances of your past victimization, nobody needs to tell you abuse is never small. To secure the justice you deserve, understand your rights today, and hold your violator accountable in the criminal or civil courts, educate yourself on the law. Upon doing so, when you are ready to take that next step, contact the criminal lawyers, victim advocates and former prosecutors at Saland Law.

Call us now at 212.312.7129 or contact us online today.

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