The Child Victims Act
The 2019 New York Child Victims Act (CVA) extended the statute of limitations for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse to come forward in New York and file a claim for money damages in civil court.
Previously, individuals who were abused as a child had from 1 to 5 years after their 18th birthday to bring a case against their abuser. Due to emotional and psychological reasons, many people simply are unable to bring a case within that time, often because of fear and/or the trauma that they have suffered. This means that many guilty individuals and associated organizations have not been held accountable for their intentional wrongdoings and negligence, no matter how strong the case against them may be.
The new CVA legislation, found in CPLR 208(b), has extended the time sexual abuse survivors are eligible to file a civil lawsuit against their attackers and/or the institutions that harbored the attackers, from five years to over 35 years, (until you turn 55 years old). The law allows action to be taken against individuals and institutions whose intentional or negligent acts or omissions resulted in child sexual abuse.
At Martin, Harding, and Mazzotti, we are devoted to protecting your rights and to ending the cycle of child sexual abuse. We are equipped to take on powerful organizations, school districts, institutions, and businesses responsible for allowing sexual abuse to occur. Act now. Don’t suffer in silence any longer.
What Constitutes Sexual Abuse?
Childhood sexual abuse does not always involve physical interaction. The abuse can be described as sexual communications with a minor or “sexting,” exposing oneself in front of a minor, filming or photographing a minor for sexual purposes, or performing sexual acts in front of a minor. Whether or not the abuse is physical in nature, any sexual act perpetrated by an adult unto a child under 18 years old is illegal and considered abuse.
In New York, sexual offenses are defined in Article 130, Article 255 and Article 263 of the Penal Law, which includes various offenses related to :
- sexual misconduct
- criminal sexual act
- forcible touching
- sexual abuse
- sexual conduct against a child
- female genital mutilation
- facilitating a sex offense with a controlled substance
- sex trafficking
- possessing or promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child
- facilitating a sexual performance by a child with a controlled substance or alcohol
How Common is Institutional Childhood Sexual Abuse?
While recent cases involving Boy Scouts of America and USA Gymnastics continue to highlight the problem, and despite our now data-driven world, there still is no single answer to this question. No government agency or child-serving organization accurately tracks how often sexual misconduct of children occurs.
Within just the realm of educational institutions, the following data can shed a little light:
- 6% of students report experiencing school employee sexual misconduct (contact or non-contact) by the time they graduate from high school, based on a survey of 8th to 11th-grade students conducted in the year 2000. 
- From January 1, 2014, through December 31, 2020, there have been 3,790 independent cases documented by Google alerts of “teacher arrested” or “educator sexual abuse”. Ranging from 500 to 700 cases a year, sexual misconduct is very much an “everyday” experience in our US schools. 
In the larger context, the following statistics highlight the extent of the problem:
- Every 9 minutes, child protective services substantiate, or find evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse.
- One in nine girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experienced sexual abuse at the hands of an adult.
- 82% of all victims under the age of 18 are female. 
Where Does Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Take Place?
While sexual abuse can happen in any institutional setting or organization, some of the most common ones include:
- Churches and other places of worship
- Public and private schools
- Doctor’s offices and hospitals
- Youth sports
- Community organizations and youth-serving organizations
- Summer camps
- Nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- Juvenile detention facilities
- Youth residential treatment facilities
What Are The Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse For The Victims?
The trauma experienced by a victim of childhood sexual abuse can have lasting psychological consequences for victims. The most common related issues are increased anxiety, depression, diminished self-esteem, dysfunctional relationships, eating disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, and PTSD.  These are long-term damages that offenders are responsible for, and victims should receive compensation.
According to a 2012 study , women who are victims of sexual abuse or assault:
- Are about 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of drug abuse,
- About 4 times more likely to experience PTSD as adults, and are
- About 3 times more likely to experience a major depressive episode as adults.
If you or a loved one have been sexually abused as a child by a clergy member, teacher, coach, camp counselor, scout leader, or any other institutional abuser, you may have a case.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I hire an attorney? What should I consider when hiring an attorney?
So should a victim of child sexual abuse hire an attorney and what things should they consider when making the decision to hire an attorney?
So, first and foremost, yes, you should hire an attorney. Hiring an attorney specifically in this area of childhood sexual abuse is a very important decision, just like in any civil case. But in this one, in some ways, it’s more important than others. This is a very personal decision that the survivors of childhood sexual abuse make in whether or not they’re gonna come forward.
So the most important thing they can do is do their homework. Research the lawyers they’re looking to talk to, find attorneys who are experienced attorneys, or experienced litigators, also who have experienced under the Child Victims Act in prosecuting these claims against perpetrators and institutions. Some of the folks who are thinking about bringing these claims have concerns: Do I have to open up my whole life? Do I have to tell everything that’s happened to me? How is this going to play out? Again, this is an incredibly personal decision for something that is an incredibly personal experience that happened to them.
So in addition to doing your homework on lawyers and law firms, ultimately you want to go meet with these attorneys. You want to interview the attorneys. If you decide to pursue a lawsuit and you hire an attorney, that person’s going to be standing with you every step of the way. So you, as the person hiring an attorney for such a very personal experience, you want to make sure not only that attorney has experience not just in litigating cases, but more specifically in litigating this kind of cases.
You also want to make sure that attorney is the right fit for you as an individual, someone that you will be comfortable with, not only for the process of discussing something, like I said, very personal, something that was very, very horrific to experience, but also to make sure that you are gonna be comfortable walking every step of the way with that attorney by your side in the beginning of that case all the way to its conclusion.
What is the difference between a criminal case and a civil case? Which should I file?
So what’s the difference between a criminal case involving sexual abuse of a minor and a civil case? And which should I file? Well, first and foremost, a criminal case is prosecuted by the district attorney’s office. It’s investigated, certainly by law enforcement agencies. But that is a case that is brought by the state. So it’s typically the people of the state of New York versus the defendant in this particular case, who would be the perpetrator. A civil case is different. It’s the survivor of that sexual abuse. The survivor is the person bringing a claim against that very same defendant. There’s different standards of proof and they’re handled differently. Again, the state prosecutes claims of a criminal nature. Civil cases are prosecuted by that survivor of sexual abuse by the attorney of their choice.
They’re handled in different courts as well. Criminal cases are handled in criminal court. Civil cases are handled in civil court. And the most important thing, the most important difference between these is the burden of proof that applies. People watch shows on television and they hear beyond a reasonable doubt. Well, that’s a standard that applies only and solely to criminal cases. In the civil cases, the survivor of child sexual abuse has to prove by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence that it was more likely than not that their story is true, that what they are saying happened to them actually occurred, and that these people or these institutions are responsible for it. The good thing about the Child Victims Act is, people who’ve experienced this type of abuse, they can pursue both remedies. They can have law enforcement authorities pursue the perpetrator, and they can have civil attorneys pursue the institutions and the perpetrator as well, for justice, for compensation.
If I decide to come forward as a survivor, what information will I need?
So people ask this all the time as a survivor of child sexual abuse: What information do I need to come forward?
First and foremost, this is a very personal decision by these individuals to come forward. A lot of them are very nervous. They’re scared about coming forward. They’ve never told the story to anyone before in their life. That can include their parents, their siblings, and oftentimes their spouses. The most important thing they can do is to come forward. All you need to do is come and tell us your story. Tell us your truth. Tell us your experience. We can then do investigation. We can then reach out to individuals who may be able to assist us in corroborating that story, that truth, getting records.
The only thing you really need to do is to make that first step and come forward to us, and tell us your story. And we can take it from there. Once you come forward, it’s up to the attorney that you hire to then work on your case, investigate the facts, pursue the perpetrator or pursue the institution, get whatever records are necessary, and pursue whatever witnesses might be necessary to prosecute and prove that claim on your behalf.
If I don’t want everyone to find out what happened to me, can I still come forward?
So I don’t want everyone out there in the public to find out what happened to me. Can I still come forward? Can I still bring a claim? Yes, you can. New York law provides the victims of child sexual abuse the ability to potentially bring claims under a John Doe or a Jane Doe status. You can still file that lawsuit. You can still pursue that institution. You can still pursue that perpetrator for the justice and compensation you deserve. But you can do it under a cloak of anonymity to ensure that everybody else out there doesn’t have to hear about the things that happened to you.
Alternatively, if you decide that you want to file that lawsuit in your own name, you can do that as well. But that’s ultimately up to you as the survivor of child sexual abuse how you want to proceed in that lawsuit.
You are not alone!
The attorneys at Martin, Harding & Mazzotti are understanding, sensitive, and knowledgeable about childhood sexual abuse law and we are dedicated to bringing justice to attackers and the institutions that allowed and protected the abusers that harmed you.