NEW YORK — The new year may finally bring the passage of a bill to allow more time for victims of child sexual abuse to file suits against their abusers in New York state – legislation that is especially important for people with disabilities.
Children with disabilities are disproportionately targeted for sexual abuse, but New York has some of the most restrictive laws in the country for holding perpetrators accountable. Currently, victims have until their 23rd birthday to bring civil or criminal cases.
According to Lourdes Rosa-Carrasquillo, advocacy director at the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, the Child Victims Act would significantly extend the statute of limitations for filing civil suits.
“If passed, it will be 50 years,” Rosa-Carrasquillo said; “which makes sense, because most children who have been sexually abused have to go through a whole process to get past that, and it’s been found that it takes 40 years or so.”
It would also raise the age for filing criminal charges to 28. The bill, first introduced in 2006, has passed in the Assembly but never has had a vote in the State Senate.
Senate Republicans want the bill to allow only a year for victims to bring legal actions for abuse that may have occurred decades ago, and to protect the identity of abusers, provisions Rosa-Carrasquillo and other advocates object to.
“Some people are not identifying with it until later,” she said. “And they’ve got to be given the opportunity to go back and say, ‘this is what happened back then.'”
A “look back” provision in the Assembly bill, allowing more time to bring legal action for past abuse, has been opposed by the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church, which fear that unlimited lawsuits would threaten their ability to serve the community.
The stakes are high for people with disabilities. On average, children with disabilities are almost three times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse. And Rosa-Carrasquillo pointed out that some face even more risk.
“Children with mental health or intellectual disabilities are 4.6 times more likely to get sexually abused and not believed because they’re either cognitively impaired people think they’re psychotic,” she explained.
Supporters of the legislation are hopeful that with Democrats taking control of the state Senate in January, the bill finally will become law.