The New York Child Victims Act (A2683, S2440 and S6575) is a historic step forward in child protection. It essentially reforms the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors.
The Child Victims Act was passed by the New York Legislature on January 28, 2019. It was signed into law on February 14, 2019. It comes into effect on August 14, 2019. For sexual abuse survivors who were previously time-barred from suing, those will be given a one-year window to bring claims that occurred many years ago. For any other survivor, they will have until the age of 55 to report abuse to law enforcement, giving them thirty-seven (37) years after their 18th birthday to report the crime.
The New York Child Victims Act
– Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of the Child Victims Act?
It is a bill eliminating the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse crimes and filing civil lawsuits for damages against individuals, public institutions, and private institutions related to child sexual abuse.
Does the Child Victims Act provide any special legislation?
Yes. The Child Victims Act creates a one-year revival period, sometimes referred to as the ‘look-back window’, for previously time-barred civil actions by abuse survivors where allegations were made regarding certain sexual offenses committed against them as children under the age of eighteen (18).
What does the Child Victims Act mean for victims of sexual abuse?
Prior to this law, victims had only five (5) years from the moment they turned eighteen (18) years of age to report a crime of sexual abuse to law enforcement officials. After the victim turns twenty-three (23), the statute of limitations prevented a perpetrator from being prosecuted. With the Child Victims Act, the statute of limitations has been extended by a further thirty-two (32) years, allowing victims to get justice up until their 55th birthday.
When does the one-year ‘look-back window’ come into effect and how long will it last?
This ‘look-back’ window is specifically for those victims who were previously statute barred from suing a person or entity for allegations of childhood sexual abuse. It comes into effect on August 14, 2019. And it will run for one complete year, ending at midnight August 13, 2020.
Who does the burden of proof fall upon?
The burden of proof is on the victim. They must prove that they were abused. They must also prove that the person and/or entity were responsible for their abuse, and/or the entity was negligent in protecting them from abuse.
Who may avail of the provisions in the Child Victims Act?
All residents of New York who allege they were sexually abused in childhood. Persons in other jurisdictions may also sue persons and/or entities resident in New York at the time of the abuse.
For example, a person who resides in Washington may have been statute barred in their own state because they brought a case more than 10 years after their 18th birthday. However, they could bring a case against Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities in New York, if it is alleged that the corporations of Jehovah’s Witnesses located in New York were negligent in protecting the alleged victim from their abuse.
What organizations might get sued with the enactment of this law?
Any organizations that work with children and had a child molester as an employee or volunteer could be sued. It could include legal entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including but not limited to, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, and Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Inc.
Will the Child Victims Act make it easier for victims to win lawsuits?
The Act will make it possible for some victims to sue when that possibility didn’t exist before. However, it doesn’t lessen the burden of proof. Victims must convince a jury that they were sexually abused and that religious organizations like Watch Tower knew or should have known that a member was a molester. Liability still must be proven by a “fair preponderance of the evidence”, which, thankfully, is a lower threshold than “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Civil cases are won by presenting more persuasive evidence than the other side.
Could the Child Victims Act cause Watch Tower to file for bankruptcy?
It is possible. Since 2018, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been transferring a lot of their funds out of the United States to another entity in Germany, Jehovas Zeugen in Deutschland. Critics claim that the intent is to reduce their liability by filing for bankruptcy as the bulk of their funds has been transferred overseas. It is likely that Watch Tower are aware of how the Catholic Church has fared in child sexual abuse cases. For example, in Minnesota, the Catholic Church filed for bankruptcy in five (5) of its six (6) dioceses.
Could Jehovah’s Witnesses shield itself from the prospect of big jury awards?
Yes, they could. To do this, they would have to establish a compensation program for victims. Such programs give money to childhood victims of abuse within their organization. In return, those victims would sign away their rights to sue the entities run by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are unlikely to operate such a program. That would be admitting that they have a problem with child sexual abuse and that they have been negligent in protecting children from abuse. Instead, it is likely that they would minimize the risk to their money by moving it overseas to an entity such as Jehovas Zeugen in Deutschland. Remember that Watch Tower sold most of its lucrative properties in New York in recent years which allowed them to pocket a lot of money. If all that money has been transferred off-shore, could the Jehovah’s Witnesses be minimizing their risk in case of a deluge of child abuse cases coming before the courts in the coming year?
Will members’ donations be used to pay compensation and lawsuits?
Jehovah’s Witnesses rely on donations from members to operate. They regularly appeal for donations in their literature, at their congregation meetings and at assemblies & conventions. They also raise capital by selling off kingdom halls, assembly halls, branch offices, and other assets. Their organization often speaks of ‘disaster relief’ when requesting funds from members. Many critics believe the ‘disaster’ being referred to here is their having to pay out in child abuse cases. In November 2018, Philip Brumley, legal counsel for Watch Tower, admitted to Mark O’Donnell – a child abuse rights activist within the JW community – that the child abuse problem is “a lightning rod”.
How many lawsuits are likely to be filed against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York?
It’s difficult to tell. We don’t know how many children were sexually abused by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses that their entities are aware of. What we do know is that all records relating to child abuse are kept on file in Patterson, New York.
Some victims may not be interested in a quick settlement. It’s possible that some might be more interested in using the courts to force the Jehovah’s Witnesses into revealing how they protected and covered for abusive perpetrators. Their lawyers can subpoena the child abuse database in New York that they have been keeping hidden for decades.
Have you been a victim of childhood sexual abuse?
If you have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and you are not sure of your rights, you should immediately seek legal advice. Do not delay as delay could prove very costly.
Here are a list of law firms that are interested in helping you:
Can I get help to determine if my case is worth looking into?
Yes. We believe that all cases should be reviewed. If you would like for us to help you out, please send us a quick message: